When trying to encapsulate the Nashville Predators 2018-19 season, one word comes to mind: frustrating.
Whether it be the rash of injuries that sidelined Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, P.K. Subban, Kyle Turris and other key members of the team, or the struggles of the 31st-ranked power play unit, the Preds and their fans have to be unsatisfied with a 31-19-4 record and second-place standing in the Central division.
But if you look a little deeper, there are other stats that appear to be alarming as well. For instance, Nashville surrenders the third-fewest goals per game, but has just the 13th-ranked penalty kill.
The offense does rank in the top 10 in goals per game, but are fourth in their own division in the same category – trailing the Winnipeg Jets, Colorado Avalanche and Chicago Blackhawks.
But perhaps the most troubling stat is that the Nashville Predators have just a 3-6 record against division opponents in their last nine games, and just a 7-6 record against division rivals this season.
That’s what makes Saturday night’s 3-1 loss to the Dallas Stars all the more difficult.
“A loss is a loss, but especially in these division games when we’re supposed to win, and we want to win really bad. It’s a tough loss,” Preds forward Calle Jarnkrok said. “I think they came out harder than us in the third. We had our chances to score in the first two, but it just didn’t happen. I think that’s why we lost the game today.”
“These guys are fighting for their playoff lives and it’s a huge game for them too, so it showed,” Preds goalie Pekka Rinne added. “They played a physical game and it was chippy out there and you could tell they cared and it meant a lot for them and same way for us.”
What makes the loss even more disheartening is the fact the Nashville was clearly the better team for the first two periods. And outside of a five-minute window in the third period, the Preds should have won on Saturday night.
“I thought the first period was good, I thought the second period was good,” Preds coach Peter Laviolette said. “They’re a good team and they’re playing good defense. They’re one of the lowest goals-against teams in the league and it’s not easy to generate against them. The only part I didn’t like – I don’t like the ending – but for our play, the only part I didn’t like was the first four or five minutes in the third period.”
Nine of the final 28 games for the Preds are against division opponents, including three of the next four games, beginning with a rematch against Dallas next Thursday.
“That’s twice they’ve taken us,” Laviolette said of Dallas. “So, we’ll need to be ready. They’re a good team.”
“We have a tough division,” Jarnkrok added. “There’s a lot of good teams. We’ve got to win those games.”
“Both of these last two Dallas games have gone very similar,” Rinne said. “We’ve got a lot of chances and a lot of shots in both games and played really well. It’s really disappointing when you play a game like that and end up losing the game.”
Of the next three division opponents – Dallas, St. Louis and Colorado – the Preds only have a winning record against one – Colorado.
If Nashville doesn’t want to settle for a second-place finish in the Central, then the Preds will have to do better than their current 7-6 record within the division, and certainly do better than their 3-1 home loss to the Stars.
“That’s why you feel disappointed, you feel crushed after,” Rinne said. “It’s Saturday night in Nashville and it’s a division game, so yeah, we only have 28 games left and it goes by quick. I’m not worried about our game, but obviously, it just feels disappointed to lose the game.”