Only two other teams in the NHL have collected fewer points on the road than the Nashville Predators. This is an organization that has earned 20 of a possible 26 points at home and boasts one of the strongest defensive units in the league as well as one of the better performing goaltenders.
So what in the world is happening?
Last night’s 5-2 loss to the Dallas Stars was Nashville’s fifth loss in its past eight games on the road. With one win coming against Ottawa and the other two coming against lowly Colorado, the Predators need to correct a problem that, for all intents and purposes, shouldn’t be happening at the level it is — and soon.
“There's no excuse, there really isn't,” Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm told the Predators website Thursday night after the loss. “We've just got to get better on the road, that's the bottom line. I think we've been playing good lately, we've had our chances, even on the road, and then there have been a few tough losses, close games. Tonight wasn't that, and that's something we've got to be better at. We know where the problem is — it's within our group and we've just got to make sure we fix it.”
Sure, there have been plenty of chances for Nashville both home and away, but that can’t be blamed for every loss on the road. Some losses are easily explained. Others leave you shaking your head. Case in point? The last two road losses for the Predators: Thursday night against Dallas and Nov. 27th against the Winnipeg Jets.
The Stars capitalized off bad defensive turnovers and out-of-position players. Pekka Rinne was hung out to dry and Nashville looked more discombobulated than they had been throughout the entire month of October. The Jets offered another story. Forty-two shots reached Winnipeg netminder Connor Hellebuyck and not a single one passed through. The Predators were all over the Jets from the opening horn, but thanks to a goal from Drew Stafford late in the second period and two empty-netters near the final horn, Winnipeg walked away with a 3-0 win.
It’s seemingly the tale of two different teams. In reality, nothing changed. The Predators have indeed dealt with a rash of injuries lately, including ones that have sidelined defensemen Anthony Bitetto, who’s been out for the majority of the season, and Ryan Ellis.
Is that enough to thoroughly explain what ails this team on the road, though?
Their special teams, both power play and penalty kill, can’t seem to gain any traction on the road. Overall, they have scored 17 fewer goals when away from Bridgestone Arena. For a team boasting one of the most complete lineups in franchise history and thought to control their destiny in the Western Conference, Nashville still has plenty of work ahead. A fantastic month of November can’t disguise the troubles that plague this team away from home. It simply masks the symptoms of a larger illness.
Granted, if the Predators start notching some road wins, it’ll do wonders for their confidence through the second half of the schedule. They need to figure it out before the end of the year, though, and they only have four chances left to do so. January and March see Nashville play away from home 17 times, including three sets of back-to-backs.
If this stretch of road problems carries into 2017, it will make for an interesting race to the finish line.