Balanced schedule gives Nashville no excuses this season

With the 2011-12 season rapidly approaching, the gang at PHT decided to take a look at all 30 NHL teams’ schedules. Each team’s highs and lows will be studied in detail to give you an idea of what the future might hold for each squad.

Note: Mileage figures via On the Forecheck’s “Super Schedule.”

Nashville Predators schedule analysis

Total mileage: 39,534 (16th most miles in NHL and 3rd most in the Central Division)

Back-to-back games: 11

Toughest stretches

The Predators are lucky in that there are no glaring tough stretches to speak of this season. The toughest run is most likely early in the season as they have ten games in a row against teams that made the playoffs last season. Within the stretch, the last five are on a season-long five game road trip. The tough patch starts with games at home against the Sharks, Lightning, and Ducks. Once they pack their bags, they head to Chicago for a game before battling most of the Pacific Division. Dates against Phoenix, San Jose, Los Angeles, and Anaheim will definitely keep the Predators attention. When they return, they face a couple more playoff teams in the Montreal Canadiens and Washington Capitals.

Easiest periods

The Predators have two stretches during the season where they’ll need to do some damage if they want to make the playoffs (and get a decent seed). Between December 3-15, they’ll play six of seven games at the Bridgestone Arena. Then to start 2012, they play four of five games at home against the likes of Calgary, Dallas, Carolina, and a back-to-back with Colorado. They need to earn a few victories here—they’ll need them later.

Overall outlook

Based on pure numbers, the Predators have the easiest schedule in the Central Division. The 11 back-to-back games is by far the fewest in the division (closest in Detroit with 14). Looking at the way the teams stack up, they will have a good rhythm throughout the season of playing a few games at home and getting on the road before malaise sets in. The longest road trips are only five games (twice), and they’ll have both of those done by December 1.

If the Predators are in the midst of a playoff battle towards the end of the season, they should like the way their schedule wraps up. They’ll have a three game homestand between March 31 – April 5. If they can’t get their business done at home, they have a final game against the Avalanche.

Who knows if the Predators will lock down yet another playoff spot—but one thing we know for sure is that if they miss out, it won’t be because of their schedule.

Rangers’ losing streak continues with OT defeat vs. Penguins

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The New York Rangers needed a win.

Their slow start is among the surprises early this season, as the Rangers have now lost four in a row with only one win to their record through seven games so far. They’ve had trouble scoring. Mistakes at inopportune moments have been costly.

Facing the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday, the Rangers had a brutal start and a brutal finish in a 5-4 overtime loss to their Metropolitan Division foes.

Phil Kessel scored just 43 seconds into the game, utilizing that dangerous wrist shot off the rush to beat Henrik Lundqvist top corner. By the end of one period, it was 2-0 Pittsburgh.

Despite a second-period comeback, with three goals in under three minutes, and taking the lead in the third period, the Rangers couldn’t hang on and the Penguins won in overtime.

Sidney Crosby scored a crafty tying goal with only 56 seconds remaining in regulation, waiting for the Rangers defender to touch the puck negating what would’ve likely been called a hand pass on Pittsburgh before firing a no-look backhander toward the net from behind the red line. The puck deflected in off Lundqvist, helping send this one to overtime.

Evgeni Malkin capped off a four-point night with the overtime winner.

“Right now it’s a little bit challenging as far as putting a whole game together for us,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault following the game. “But this group is very accountable … and I’m very confident that if we keep doing a lot of the things we’re doing right now, we’re going to be on the right track.”

A trio of Rangers recorded their first goals of the season. That included David Desharnais, Michael Grabner and Pavel Buchnevich, although the latter played less than 10 minutes on Tuesday, despite nearly four minutes in power play time, and of course the goal.

The Rangers host the New York Islanders on Thursday.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

MORE FROM NHL ON NBC SPORTS:

Kucherov joins elite company with hot start, but Devils defeat Bolts

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The Nikita Kucherov Show continues.

The Tampa Bay Lightning star forward maintained his torrid pace Tuesday against the New Jersey Devils, scoring his eighth goal of the season — in just his seventh game.

The Bolts took the lead in the second period on goals from Kucherov and Steven Stamkos, but couldn’t hang on and ultimately lost to the Devils (how about this start for New Jersey?) by a score of 5-4 in the shootout.

There is no denying, however, that this has been a special start for the 24-year-old Kucherov and he has joined elite company as a result.

That’s a perfect shot on Cory Schneider.

Read more: Kucherov’s star continues to rise

Kucherov also added an assist on Vladislav Namestnikov‘s beautiful first-period goal. The Devils, though, completed the comeback to continue their strong start to the season, both in wins and goals for. They entered Tuesday’s contest among the league leaders in scoring and surged out to an early lead following a wild five-goal first period.

Drew Stafford opened the scoring for New Jersey and then tied it late in the third period. Kyle Palmieri scored the winner in the shootout.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

MORE FROM NHL ON NBC SPORTS:

WATCH LIVE: Canadiens at Sharks

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It’s been a difficult start to the season for both the San Jose Sharks and Montreal Canadiens, however both clubs have an opportunity to change that beginning tonight.

The Sharks host the Habs and you can catch the action on NBCSN (10:30 p.m. ET) or via the live stream.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Here are some links to check out for tonight’s game:

Rangers, Sharks need to wake up from early slumps

Canadiens looking to spark, not ‘bury’ Alex Galchenyuk after move to fourth line

It’s early but the Habs are struggling to find the back of the net

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

MORE FROM NHL ON NBC SPORTS:

Video: Nolan Patrick’s sweet drop pass sets up Dale Weise

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That was quite the second period for the Philadelphia Flyers against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday.

The Flyers scored four straight goals to take a commanding lead, but Nolan Patrick put the exclamation point on the frenzied frame with this sweet drop pass to set up Dale Weise for Philadelphia’s fourth goal.

That’s the second assist and third point of the season for the 19-year-old Patrick.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

MORE FROM NHL ON NBC SPORTS: