When the Nashville Predators got off to an 8-3-1 start no one was really surprised. Most people expected them to be a good team this year, so why would those positive results be shocking? Well, on the flip side, this six-game losing streak they’re currently riding is pretty shocking. But why are they struggling so badly?
This slump started with an ugly 9-3 loss in Denver on Nov. 7. Since then, the Predators haven’t won a game and they’ve collected just one of a possible 12 points in the standings. As you’d imagine, they’ve been tumbling down the Western Conference standings. Only the Minnesota Wild (20 points) and the Los Angeles Kings (19 points) have fewer points than Nashville’s 21 (the Preds have a game in hand on both those teams though).
You don’t have to look far to see why they’re slumping so badly. They’ve given up at least five goals in four of the six losses. When they’ve held the opponent to two goals or fewer, they’ve only managed to score once. Yeah, that’s an issue.
The really strange thing about the boatload of goals that this team is giving up, is that they actually have lowest XGA in the league at 31.97, according to Natural Stat Trick. So the fact that they’re giving up so many goals while seemingly limiting their opponents’ quality scoring chances has to be concerning.
Pekka Rinne‘s been pulled in each of his last two starts and his individual stats aren’t flattering either. He owns a respectable 8-4-2 record, but his goals-against-average of 3.06 and his save percentage of .889 aren’t great by any means. Is the 37-year-old just showing his age or is this slide only temporary? Will they have to turn to Juuse Saros more often? These are all valid questions that need to be answered soon.
The goalies need to come up with some saves to bail out their team, but that doesn’t excuse the performance from everyone else on the team.
But blaming the goalie for Thursday night’s loss to the Canucks isn’t fair. The Predators surrendered five power play goals to Vancouver during the 6-3 defeat.
“Things aren’t bouncing our way right now, but at the same time, we’re not making it easy on ourselves either,” Matt Duchene said after the game, per NHL.com. “Whenever things are tough sledding like right now, you’ve got to do whatever you can to give yourself a chance. You take that many penalties, I don’t know how many we took, six or seven, I don’t know what it was. They got three or four great bounces on the power play and just put pucks to the net.”
Even though the Preds are 10th in the NHL in goals scored, they’ve seen a lot of their high-end offensive players go cold in the last few games. Here’s the statistical rundown for their top forwards:
— Matt Duchene: Six points in his last seven games, but he’s found the back of the net just once in his last five outings.
— Filip Forsberg: No points in his last three games.
— Ryan Johansen: One goal in his last 17 games.
— Viktor Arvidsson: No goals in seven games and he’s scored just once in his last 12 contests.
— Mikael Granlund: One goal in his last 16 games.
Those are some heavy offensive hitters that have gone cold in the goal department. You won’t win regularly if that many top players go quiet.
Overall, it’s quite clear that the Preds need some serious work in a lot of different areas. There’s no denying that the team is talented, but what happens if this drought lasts a little longer? Does head coach Peter Laviollette get the Mike Babcock treatment? For now, it looks like management will give everyone the benefit of the doubt before they make a major trade or a firing.
At least the group still seems to believe they can get this straightened out.
“We’ve got to stick together. It’s a tough time,” forward Rocco Grimaldi said after Tuesday’s loss to Winnipeg. “It’s a rough patch. But honestly everyone goes through it. You look at St. Louis last year and remember where they were, so it’s just something everyone goes through. And if you’re a great team, how do you respond to this? How do you guys grow closer together? How do you guys grow stronger together through this? So this is something we’ve just got to make it band us together and not break us apart.”
Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.