After dropping a 2-1 overtime decision to the Tampa Bay Lightning Thursday night (with all due respect, Mr. Poile, how did you let Vaclav Prospal leave on Tampa's team plane?), the Preds are about to go through a brutal 9-game, 15-day stretch against other Western Conference teams that leads right up to the NHL Trading Deadline, and represents one third of their remaning regular season schedule. In detail, we have the following:
Saturday 2/9 @ San Jose
Sunday 2/10 @ Phoenix
Tuesday 2/12 vs. Detroit
Thursday 2/14 vs. Chicago
Saturday 2/16 vs. St. Louis
Sunday 2/17 @ Minnesota
Tuesday 2/19 vs. Edmonton
Thursday 2/21 vs. Vancouver
Saturday 2/23 vs. Dallas
Of that group, only Chicago and Edmonton are starting to slip away from playoff contention, so the games will be just as meaningful to the opposition as they are to Nashville. To me, the question that hangs over the team right now is where the secondary scoring has gone, and whether David Poile will attempt to acquire some help there at any point before February 26, which is the deadline day. In each of their last two games the Predators have scored only once, with both goals coming from the Radulov-Arnott-Dumont line. Their consistent production has been fantastic, but after that Nashville's options get pretty thin.
Martin Erat left the Lightning game with back spasms, but according to a radio report he did travel with the team to San Jose so hopefully he won't miss any action. David Legwand's 12 goals this season are a bit of a disappointment, and Radek Bonk (who was so hot early on) hasn't scored a goal since December 19 in Chicago, and he's not shutting opponents down, either. Right now the 3rd and 4th lines aren't chipping in offensively, and that's got to change soon; if that top line goes into any kind of funk the Preds could hit the skids quickly, and with the intensity of competition in the Western Conference there's no margin for the sort of losing streaks this team was prone to earlier on.
The good news is that the goaltending has been excellent of late, whether with Chris Mason or Dan Ellis in net, so the workload shouldn't be a problem this month as they've been comfortable switching in and out of the net as Barry Trotz sees fit. I would expect that Ellis will get starts each of the next two weekends, with perhaps another game thrown into the mix. On defense, the eight players on the active roster will presumably all see action, to keep the legs fresh and encourage competition among them for playing time. In particular, it will be interesting to see when Ville Koistinen returns to the ice, as he's been a healthy scratch in recent games and provided some offensive boost previously.
All in all, it'll be a hectic two weeks as the Preds battle for precious points, fans watch the scoreboard and hope other games don't go to overtime (I'll say it again, the OTL point is the dumbest rule in professional sports), and everyone keeps an ear to the ground for trade news. If Nashville can hit the trade deadline having earned 11 of the 18 possible points in these games, they should find themselves in position for a 5th-7th spot in the Western Conference playoffs. Nobody wants to land in 8th considering the way the Red Wings are playing these days.