It’s not quite the home stretch yet, but the Nashville Predators are into the second half of the 2015-16 season. While there is plenty of time to add to their 45-point total, the Preds also know that time is ticking.
Nashville has lost three in a row, and is 4-5-1 in their last 10 outings, with their next five games, including Tuesday’s against Chicago, within their own division. It’s a stretch that could see the Preds gain ground in the Central, or the opposite, which the team is doing everything possible to avoid.
“It’s one of those critical parts of the year,” defenseman Barret Jackman said Monday after practice in Chicago. “We have to have that urgency to turn things around right now and start getting some wins under our belt, so it doesn’t come down to the last day of the year. The urgency has to be there to get these points.”
Points won’t come easily against the Blackhawks Tuesday night, winners of seven-straight contests and owner of the NHL’s leading scorer in Patrick Kane. But the Predators will look to counter with their top line, anchored by Ryan Johansen, who tallied a goal and an assist in his Preds debut Friday at Colorado. Filip Forsberg and James Neal are stationed on either side of Johansen, a trio that Head Coach Peter Laviolette has been pleased with in the four-plus periods they’ve been together.
“They’re a dangerous group,” Laviolette said. “When we had a little more jump to our game in Colorado, when we put that line together, they were dangerous every time they went on the ice… I’ll be anxious to see them tomorrow night. It’s a big game for us; it’s a great opponent, great opportunity for them.”
Although he wasn’t with the Preds during their postseason series against the Blackhawks, Jackman is well aware of the opposition, thanks to his 800-plus games with the St. Louis Blues before joining the Preds.
“They play a great team game, and they have a lot of guys that score big goals at big times,” Jackman said of the Hawks. “They’re always dangerous and you have to come out physical and play a good team game.”
Jackman has been through stretches like this before, and the veteran defenseman is well aware of what not to do to get out of the funk.
“You can’t be sitting there pouting if you’re not winning games,” Jackman said. “You have to have fun and if you’re having fun, you’re staying loose and you’re playing better hockey too. We want to have fun and enjoy being at the rink and being around each other. You play a lot faster and a lot better hockey when you do.”
The trust factor also remains strong in the room. Jackman believes it’s traits like those that will help to pull the Preds up sooner rather than later.
“You just have to keep going and trusting the guys next to you,” Jackman said. “They’re going to do their job, and you have to dig deep to do your job too. It’s easy to pout and hang your head, but things will turn around. We believe in the guys in the room, and we’ll definitely get some wins.”
Practice Lines and Notes:
Colin Wilson (day-to-day, lower-body) was the only player absent from Monday’s practice in Chicago. Gabriel Bourque (Injured Reserve, upper-body) continued to practice with the team but did not skate during line rushes.
Forward Eric Nystrom did not skate in his usual spot on the fourth line and instead was paired with Petter Granberg as an extra defense pair during rushes.
Monday’s pairings and combos looked like this:
| ||Forwards || |
|Filip Forsberg ||Ryan Johansen ||James Neal |
|Viktor Arvidsson ||Mike Ribeiro ||Craig Smith |
|Cody Hodgson ||Mike Fisher ||Calle Jarnkrok |
|Miikka Salomaki ||Paul Gaustad ||Austin Watson |
| ||Defense || |
|Roman Josi ||Shea Weber |
|Mattias Ekholm ||Ryan Ellis |
|Anthony Bitetto ||Barret Jackman |
Shot of the Day: