The recent stumble is nothing too distressing for the long-term goals of this year’s Nashville Predators squad. After all, slow starts are nothing new to playoff-bound Preds teams.
Last season Nashville opened 3-6-1 in the first 10 games and was 7-8-1 after 16 games, before rattling off 85 points over the final 66 regular-season contests to earn the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference playoff bracket.
In ’07-08 the Preds started 2-6-0 in the season’s first eight games and were 7-7-1 after Game 15. That year’s team stumbled through remainder of the calendar year before catching fire when January rolled around and finished with 55 points in the final 45 games to earn the conference’s No. 8 seed.
The first Predators playoff team stumbled out of the gate, too, with a 3-5-0 mark in the first eight games of the ’03-04 season. That squad was 9-10-1 after 20 games before picking up 72 points in the last 62 games of the schedule to nail down the No. 8 seed.
Even the dominant ‘06-07 squad opened 0-3 before rattling off a team-record 110 points.
Unlike last season, ’07-08, or even ’03-04, the answers appear easier to spot than they did at the same points of those three campaigns. Simply by getting injured players back into the lineup should help the team right its recent struggles.
Injuries are a part of the game and a part of the season-long battle, but the early season injuries for the Preds have all been at the top of the lineup and to players who have been primarily durable. Ryan Suter
has missed the last eight games; he had missed 17 games total in his first five NHL seasons and none the past two years. Martin Erat
has played 70-plus games in five of the last six seasons. Matthew Lombardi had missed four-or-fewer games in four of his six NHL campaigns; last year he played 78 games, with 81 and 82 games in two of the three seasons prior.
The team was 3-0-1 through four games when Suter was injured in the first period of Game 5 (Nov. 19 vs. Calgary). In the eight games without Suter, the team’s most well-rounded two-way defenseman, the Preds have gone 2-5-1, allowing four-or-more goals in five of those eight contests.
The offense hasn’t been absent of the injury bug either. Erat has missed six of the first 13 games. Lombardi has missed the last 11 games. Erat and Lombardi – along with Colin Wilson
– formed the Preds most consistent offensive line during training camp and preseason. The way the Patric Hornqvist
-Cal O’Reilly-Steve Sullivan trio have developed this season (12 goals in the first 13 games), a second dangerous offensive unit will go a long way toward putting the team in playoff position.