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50 Days: The Challenge Ahead

As the Predators Return from Their Five-Day Break, Willy Daunic Takes a Look at What Looms Ahead

by Willy Daunic @WillyD1025 / Television Play-By-Play Announcer

Has everybody recharged their batteries? As the brand new "bye week" wraps up for the Nashville Predators, it's time to take a look at the challenge ahead as the team attempts to secure a spot in the eight-team Western Conference playoff bracket.  

The new NHL concept has had mixed reviews so far (the five-day break is enjoyed by different teams at different times). The early results have not been good in the first game back for each team (3-9-1 as of Friday), but the trade off in theory will be to heal up for what will most certainly be a mad dash to the regular season finish line.   

For Nashville, the squad opens with an extremely difficult set of back-to-back games in Minnesota on Saturday night, followed by a 5 p.m. CT Sunday tilt at Columbus. Both opponents have had elite seasons, and have a combined home record of 39-15-2. Those contests begin a run of 26 games over a 50-day span for the Preds. Though every team will face a similar "compressed" post bye-week schedule, it will test the sturdiness, stamina, and depth of every organization.

Let's look at a breakdown of the schedule:

1. The Basics

     A. Twelve Home Games Remain, 14 on the road

     B. There are four more sets of back-to-back games

     C. Ten Games vs. Eastern Conference

     D. Sixteen Games vs. Western Conference

     E. Eight Games vs. Central Division

2. It's A Tough Schedule

As you prepare to hear "bracketologists" discuss "strength of schedule" with the NCAA Basketball selection process, I'll take a page out of that book. In a nutshell, the Predators have a high "SOS."

A. According to PlayoffStatus.com, the Predators remaining opponents have a .510 winning percentage. That may not seem like much, but it ranks as a tie for the second-most difficult in the Western Conference. As a comparison, St. Louis Blues opponents have only a .440 winning percentage - by far the easiest in the West.  

B. The Predators 14 remaining road games are tied for the the most in the Western Conference (along with St. Louis and Colorado).

C. According to STATS Inc., the Predators have the sixth-toughest remaining schedule in the NHL.   

3. More Details

Of the 26 remaining games, 16 remain against teams that, as of Thursday, were above the playoff line. Those tough tests include:

A. Two games each with the following "elite" teams:  

         1. Minnesota

         2. San Jose

         3. Washington

B. Four remaining games with the three Western Conference "Bubble Teams" currently closest to the Predators in the standings:

         1. Two home games vs. Calgary

         2. One at St. Louis

         3. One at Los Angeles

4. What It Will Take

Right now, it appears that the Wild, Blackhawks, Sharks, Ducks and Oilers will take five spots in the eight team field that makes up the Western Conference portion of the playoffs, barring a collapse. (Disclaimer: you never know).  

Though it's not over yet, it would take quite the run by the Canucks, Stars or the Jets to get back into the picture (Again: it could happen, you never know). The Coyotes and Avalanche are looking to next year (they are toast for now).

That leaves four teams (Nashville, Los Angeles, St. Louis and Calgary) for the remaining three spots. So what will it take for the Predators to get in?

According to Sportsclubstats.com, if Nashville can get to 93 points, they would have a 99 percent chance of making the playoffs. That would mean a record of 14-9-3 (or an equivalent amount of points, such as 13-8-5 or 15-10-1).

Somewhere between 87-90 points will put them right on the border, and it could be quite hairy if that's the case. The good news is that because the East has become stronger, the projected cutoff line is lower than before (The Kings missed the playoffs despite getting 95 points two years ago).

So buckle your seatbelt for the next 50 days. There will be thrills and maybe some bumps in the road, but now you have a map for the challenge ahead as we sit here today. But always remember one thing: anything is possible!

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