Returning home won't heal the Nashville Predators' injuries, but it may help them play better hockey.
Following a rough road trip, the Predators look to snap out of their slump Tuesday when they face the Edmonton Oilers in the opener of a three-game homestand.
Nashville (18-8-3) leads the Central Division with 39 points despite a demanding schedule which saw the Predators play 19 of their first 29 games away from home. All the travel may have finally started to take its toll during Nashville's just-completed West Coast trip, when it dropped three of four.
On Saturday at San Jose, the Predators were within a goal of the Sharks entering the final minutes, but Josef Vasicek and Scott Hartnell committed penalties to give San Jose a two-man advantage.
Sharks right wing Jonathan Cheechoo capitalized with his second goal of the game at 16:29 of the third period, sending Nashville to a 3-1 defeat - its fourth loss in five games overall.
"You can't take penalties in the last 5 minutes," Nashville center Scott Nichol said. "That killed us. It's been a long road trip."
Injuries continue to mount for the Predators. Right wing Steve Sullivan, whose 27 points lead the team, missed Saturday's game with a strained groin. Center Jason Arnott has missed the last 10 games following knee surgery, and center David Legwand has sat out three games with a hand injury.
All three forwards could return during this week's homestand, which continues Thursday against Ottawa and wraps up on Saturday versus St. Louis. The Predators are playing eight of their next 11 games at Gaylord Entertainment Center, where they are 6-1-3 this season.
Not all of the Predators are slumping. Vasicek's goal was his first since opening night, and he also has four assists over his last six games after failing to record a point in his 11 previous contests. Martin Erat, who assisted on Vasicek's goal, has four assists in the last two games.
Erat has struggled in his career against the Oilers, though, with only three goals and one assist in 14 games.
Edmonton (16-11-2) typically gives the Predators problems, with four wins in the last six meetings between the clubs. However, Nashville defeated the Oilers in their only matchup so far this season, 5-3 Nov. 1 at Rexall Place.
Jarret Stoll scored one of Edmonton's goals in that contest, and his second-period penalty shot provided the Oilers' only offense in Sunday's 4-1 defeat at Chicago. The los snapped a three-game winning streak for Edmonton, which killed off all 10 Blackhawks power-play opportunities, but also saw its scoring chances limited by spending so much time playing short-handed.
"It kills the guys who are out there penalty killing every second shift," Stoll said. "Penalty killing is hard work. It takes its toll on you when you have five in the first. It wasn't a good start for us."
The Oilers have successfully killed off 23 consecutive penalties over the last four games, increasing their league-leading percentage to 90.7 on the season.
Like the Predators, Edmonton is battling injuries. Right wing Ales Hemsky has missed the last six games with a right shoulder injury and remains day-to-day. Leading goal-scorer Ryan Smyth is on injured reserve with a fractured thumb and is out indefinitely.