With only twelve games remaining in the regular season, the Predators don’t exactly seem playoff ready.
With a 5-5-0 record in their last 10 games, the Preds look less like a team ready to compete for a Stanley Cup and more like a team still searching for answers.
Offensively, they’ve struggled to generate quality shots consistently, and even when they do generate good chances, opposing goalies seem to have their number. Defensively, it appears on some nights as if they aren’t working together as one unit. Too many miscues, missed exit passes, and turnovers.
Then there’s goaltending, which seems a microcosm of the entire team. At times Pekka Rinne looks like his old Vezina-winning self. Then other times, he looks downright awful. Backing up Rinne, the underused Juuse Saros looks very good on some nights, then one bad night will set him back for a week.
All in all, it seems like the Predators just have a chemistry issue right now.
That’s not to say they have a “locker room” issue, which is a different problem. It certainly appears as if the locker room is unified. The players care about each other, and they want to play well for their teammates and coaches. The atmosphere of the team seems oftentimes inexplicably positive. After a 5-0 home loss to the Avalanche a couple weeks ago, you would have thought the Preds won the game based on the overwhelming positive attitude in the room.
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But the team still has an on-ice chemistry issue and I think there’s a few causes.
The first cause is player turnover. The team has added Brian Boyle, Cody McLeod, Wayne Simmonds, and Mikael Granlund to the team over the last month. They’ve also subtracted Ryan Hartman and Kevin Fiala. Then don’t forget they lost Dan Hamhuis and Zac Rinaldo to injury, plus Austin Watson is in the substance abuse program.
That’s ten different players coming in and out of the lineup since January 1st. Any amount of turnover can affect team chemistry. But ten players? That’s a lot of re-organizing for a team to do this late in the season.
The other causes affecting on-ice chemistry are two key players not playing up to expectation: Kyle Turris and P.K. Subban.
Turris is having one of those years that I’m sure players have nightmares about. Injury-riddled, unlucky, and a complete lack of confidence. Almost nothing is going right for Turris. And considering he’s a $6 million linchpin in the middle of the Preds’ lineup, that’s a disaster that’s difficult for a team to overcome.
Subban’s year hasn’t been as bad as Turris’, but he doesn’t look anything like the Norris Trophy finalist we saw last year. He’s struggling to maintain composure in the defensive end, making more mistakes than we are used to. And the puck just isn’t going in the net at the other end to account for the risks he usually takes in the neutral zone.
When two of your highest paid players are not performing as expected, other players have to step up into unfamiliar or uncharacteristic roles. This creates a ripple affect in the rest of the lineup, which affects not only chemistry but the results on the ice.
These factors influencing team chemistry aren’t meant to be excuses, just explanations. And, yes, there’s still time to get machine running smoothly again. But the team cannot afford any other major shakeups down the stretch, or they will be looking at an early summer vacation.
Five Quick Thoughts
- A possible anti-dote to team chemistry problems? A nice week long road trip. The Preds have a three game swing in California this week, so here’s their chance.
- I thought for a while that Johansen would be able to get close to Paul Kariya’s record of 54 assists in a season. It could definitely still happen, but he would need 10 assists in the final 12 games to tie it. And if he is missing Filip Forsberg for much longer…
- Speaking of which, Forsberg was held out of practice Friday and Saturday on supposed “maintenance days.” Then he didn’t play Saturday and the team called him “day to day with an upper body injury.” Just more evidence that the Predators are one of the least transparent teams in sports when it comes to injuries.
- When it’s all said and done, Viktor Arvidsson might be the MVP of this team. He’s been the most consistent player all year and might even break the single season scoring record. What a special player.
- I’d love Rocco Grimaldi to get a long deal from this team this summer. Something like what Calle Jarnkrok got, six years or so. What a find he’s been.
Let’s Do That Hockey
Tuesday 3/12 – 9:00 PM: Predators @ Ducks [FS-TN]
Thursday 3/14 – 9:30 PM: Predators @ Kings [FS-TN]
Saturday 3/16 – 9:30 PM: Predators @ Sharks [FS-TN]
Right now, the Preds are most likely to face the Blues in the first round of the playoffs. That match-up has a 61.7 percent chance of happening according to Sportsclubstats. The next most likely opponent is the Dallas Stars at 15.0 percent. Dallas is creeping up the standings, taking advantage of the falling Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche.
But the third most likely first round opponent? The Winnipeg Jets at 13.3 percent.
The Blues could still win the Central, knocking the Jets to 2nd place and the Preds to 3rd place. If that happens, the Preds would be looking at an even tougher first two rounds of the playoffs, since they would be the road team in both rounds.
Thoughts of the Predators winning the Central are quickly fading (even after I wrote Friday about how difficult it would be). Their chances of winning the division currently stand at 10%, far below their chances of coming in 2nd or 3rd.
— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —