Preds need to buckle down on the road

With wins in three straight home games, the Predators have gotten back in the NHL’s playoff race in the Western Conference.

Nashville entered Tuesday with 34 points, tying San Jose for the eighth and final playoff spot. The Sharks, however, hold the tiebreaker at present, playing two fewer games.

With just 15 games remaining, the Predators’ chances to make the playoffs would seem to be bolstered by a number of factors, not the least is their schedule, which appears to have taken on added significance this season, with 48 games in a mere 99 days.

Still, there is at least one factor that could cause the Predators a bit of difficulty.

While the Predators have the 16th-most points in the league at 34, they own the league’s ninth-best home points percentage at 1.47 per game (Nashville is in a virtual dead heat with eighth-place Los Angeles, which has an advantage of 0.004).

The Predators’ main issue has been playing far more games on the road in the early part of their season, and struggling in those games. At 0.67 points per game, they have the league’s seventh-worst road points percentage.

Nashville has nine home games remaining to just six on the road — which would seemingly create optimism to make the playoffs. The bad news: Half of the road games come against Central Division foe Chicago, tied for the NHL’s highest points percentage at 1.64 per game.

The other cautionary note: Nashville’s primary competition for the final playoff spot, San Jose, is in a similar — only better — circumstance. The Sharks’ home points percentage ranks fifth-best in the NHL (1.54 per game), and the Sharks have played the fewest home games in the league to date (13).

Like Nashville, San Jose also has a poor road points percentage at 0.78 per game, but only six games left on the road.

Clearly, two factors appear to be at work this season when looking at these numbers, especially the Preds’ and Sharks’ points percentages:

1. Home teams appear to have a bigger advantage this season. This effect might be more pronounced in the Western Conference, where travel is harder on road teams.

2. Seven of the NHL’s 11 teams with the lowest road points percentages are Western clubs. Additionally, six of the top nine teams in home points percentages are from the West. Basically, the road teams are more tired, giving home teams an advantage.

This was no more clear than when Nashville recently returned from a 1-4 road trip. The Predators played five games in eight days, starting in the Central Time Zone against Dallas, flying to the Pacific Time Zone against Vancouver, coming back east for two games in the Mountain Time Zone against Calgary and Edmonton and, finally, ending up in the Eastern Time Zone against Columbus.

Nashville coach Barry Trotz talked about this effect before his team’s Monday game against Edmonton.

“I’ll tell you this: We have played the most road games, just as Edmonton has. I remember in Calgary and Edmonton, I can’t remember being that tired, physically, for a while,” he said. “I looked at all the road records (Sunday) night. They’re very poor. Other than Chicago, Anaheim and I think Detroit.

” . . . It seems like the schedule is putting a higher premium on the visiting teams for whatever reason . . . More so than ever because there’s usually more teams that are hovering around .500 and there’s not very many this year, especially in the West.”

Similarly, the Sharks made hay early, with an unheard-of six-game home stand. They went 5-0-1. Later, they went on the road for six games and went 1-4-1. Other clubs have struggled on the road like Calgary, which remains on a nine-game road losing streak. The Flames have yet to win on the road since Feb. 17.

What does it mean for the Preds? Possibly an advantage against other Western competitors outside of San Jose — especially since they’re done traveling to California and Western Canada. Five of their six road games are short trips within the division, compacting travel. Colorado, not a terrible trip, is the only other.

But playing on the road or at home will not be the sole determinant. The Sharks traded hard-hitting defenseman Douglas Murray to Pittsburgh on Monday and might be willing to shed more players as the April 3 trade deadline approaches. Meanwhile, the Predators, at worst, don’t appear to be sellers and, at best, might add a piece or two, if possible.

Fifteen games remain for Nashville. If the Predators want to make the playoffs for the eighth time in nine seasons, they will have to keep up their success at home.

And stealing an extra game or two on the road wouldn’t hurt, either.