The Nashville Predators are coming off of a back-to-back this weekend. They lost to the Wild in Minnesota on Friday, and held off a Blue Jackets comeback in Columbus to go 1-1 on the weekend. After splitting these two games, the Nashville Predators maintain the first wild card spot in the Western Conference with 64 points in 58 games played. They are two points ahead of the Calgary Flames and three points back of the third-placed divisional spot held by the St. Louis Blues. The Blues’ recent hot streak since Mike Yeo took over helped them to piggyback the Predators into the last divisional spot. The Predators’ remaining schedule will have challenging stretches, but sets them up to finish strong.
A Look at the Predators’ Remaining Schedule
In their last ten games, the Predators are 5-5-0. In the team’s previous five, they have allowed 22 goals against, while managing to score 18 of their own. The Predators are typically a staunch defensive team, so to see them allow so many goals is a bit alarming. To punch their ticket to the playoffs, the Predators will need to be better and tighten up throughout the remainder of the season. Anything less than a playoff appearance would make this season a disappointment. Here is the schedule ahead of the Predators and what they will have to do to ensure their spot in the postseason.
Having played 58 games, the Predators have 24 games remaining in the season. Of these, five will be played in February, 14 in March, and five in April. Just half of these games will be played in Nashville, so the Predators may have their work cut out for them. At home this season, the Predators have been solid with a record of 16-7-6. On the road, the record tells a different story. Typically teams like to shoot for a .500 away record. The Predators fall short of that mark with a record of 12-15-2.
It is also worth noting that the Predators have just two back-to-back games remaining. These are February 25 and 26 games against the Washington Capitals and Edmonton Oilers and home on March 27 and 28 against the New York Islanders and Boston Bruins on the road. The Predators have been above average in the second game of back-to-backs, going 5-3. Still, they will be happy to face only two more, avoiding the additional strain that these games put on a team.
Of the Predators remaining games, seven of them are against divisional rivals. These are games the Predators will certainly want to win. To call them “must-win” might be a bit dramatic, but the Predators need to fend off division foes and not concede any points. Against divisional opponents this season, the Predators have done fine at 12-9-1. Still, they will want to improve on that record.
A Critical March
The lightest stretch of the upcoming schedule is the remainder of February. This week the Predators play Calgary, Colorado, Washington, and Edmonton at home, the latter two games being a back-to-back on the 25th and 26th. They finish the month in Buffalo on the 28th. Obviously playing the Washington Capitals is no easy task for any team, but the rest of the opponents are very beatable.
The toughest stretch will be the middle of March. On the 7th, the team will head out West to play all three California teams. They play Winnipeg at home on the 13th, and then go East to play Washington and Carolina. If the Predators can find success in all that travel, they get a reprieve with three consecutive home games the week of the 20th.
Their travel schedule lightens up some in April, but four out of their five games in the month are against divisional opponents. Given how tight the standings have been all year, these last four games for the Predators may very well determine if they end up a wild card team or earn a division spot.
To try to boost their chances and secure a division spot, the Predators should be buyers at trade deadline, as they have been all year. Expect them to add some potency at forward, whether that be in the form of Matt Duchene or a veteran rental. If their goaltending and defense can return to form after their recent downturn, the Predators stand a chance in any game. Once they make the playoffs, they have more team speed and scoring than last year, making them more competitive. Until then, they will need to hold off teams like the Flames, Kings, and Jets, and do all they can to reclaim the third spot from the Blues. Their relatively balanced remaining schedule gives them every opportunity to do so.