NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — No longer do the Nashville Predators sit atop the NHL standings, mired in a five-game skid — their worst this season.
Yet the Predators see this slide as a chance to improve on some weaknesses while continuing their chase for home-ice advantage in the playoffs.
“It’s a lot better going through this right now than it would be five games before the playoffs and not be able to correct anything before the playoffs,” captain Shea Weber said Friday. “Definitely something I think that’s probably good for us. We’ve had a little bit of adversity early on, but I think this this is obviously the biggest challenge we’ve had yet.”
The Predators had been cruising under first-year coach Peter Laviolette not even losing consecutive games in regulation until this stretch.
They still rank second both in the NHL and in the Western Conference behind Anaheim with 89 points, but their lead atop the Central Division is much more precarious. Both St. Louis, four points back, and Chicago, eight back, have two games in hand. But they still are the NHL’s best on home ice with a 26-6-1 record.
This skid is testing that home advantage. They have lost three straight in Nashville, a skid that started Feb. 26 against Minnesota and Detroit and continued Thursday night with a 4-3 loss to the Islanders. Laviolette noted the Predators actually haven’t played their best over the past 10 games where Nashville is 3-6-1.
The Predators have allowed the first goal in each of the last 10. They’ve also struggled with some mental mistakes, giving up odd-man rushes and opportunities. Nashville has played 20 games in 36 days through Tuesday, tying the Predators with Florida as the busiest teams since the All-Star break, and Nashville wraps up its fourth game in six days Saturday hosting Winnipeg.
Laviolette said that has limited practice time to fix any issues that crop up.
“There’s no question I think playing a certain amount of games can take a toll on you physically,” Laviolette said. “A team that plays a high up-tempo style there has to be gas in the tank to do that. It’d be more conducive to do that with guys having a period of rest. So yeah the schedule can help us when we get to that point. We’re still at the end of four in six (days) here.”
The schedule finally offers consecutive days off between games next week, the first for Nashville since Feb. 15 and 16.
“Rest always helps this time of the season,” forward James Neal said. “We’re battling every night and especially right now teams are in playoff mode, and we need to match that. No matter what team you’re playing, they’re battling for a playoff spot or battling for a top spot. It’s a race every night.”
The Predators now also are dealing with another injury. They announced Friday that left wing Eric Nystrom will miss four weeks with a lower-body injury for a team that lost goalie Pekka Rinne for three weeks around the All-Star break. Veteran forward Mike Fisher missed the first 21 games of the season recovering from an Achilles tendon injury last summer.
Laviolette said this offers others a chance to play. Taylor Beck and Calle Jarnkrok have been healthy scratches in recent games.
The Predators feel they should have won Thursday night after scoring twice in 31 seconds after trailing 3-1 in the third period. Fisher said teams can become complacent during the season and the Predators might have been guilty of that. He sees them getting back to how they’ve played most of this season.
“It’s something for us to battle for home-ice advantage in the playoffs and all those types of things,” Fisher said. “You kind of reflect on your game and things you have to do personally and as a group. When you do that, in the end you can only be better.”
This article was written by Teresa M. Walker from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.