After picking up points in their first three games of the year, the Nashville Predators were looking as competitive as ever. Two of those games may have ended up as shootout losses, but points are points in a lockout-shortened season. After earning a big win in Minnesota on Tuesday, Ryan Suter was a distant memory, and morale was high. Thursday’s loss to the St. Louis Blues, however, brought the team back down to Earth a bit.
St. Louis is no slouch of a team, but the Predators struggled to match their intensity. They recorded only 13 shots on goal in the 3-0 shutout loss and ceded a penalty shot after Patrik Berglund beat Mike Fisher around the edge. Though they managed to put a few past Brian Elliott in Monday’s Martin Luther King Day matinee, facing Jaroslav Halak in the Scottrade Center was business as usual. The Predators have not scored in St. Louis in more than 180 minutes—over thirteen months ago.
After dwelling on it for 50 hours and during a long flight to Anaheim, the Predators came out with a bit more jump Saturday night. They took a 1-0 lead after one period on Brandon Yip’s backhand goal, capitalizing on an errant pass by Cam Fowler. It’s the kind of hustle the team had been looking for in their previous game. Following the script of their season, however, Anaheim struck back late in the second. And the third was no different—Anaheim countering every punch Nashville threw.
Ultimately Anaheim got the better end of the bout after rookie Viktor Fasth stopped every Nashville shooter in the tiebreaker. The Predators are now 1 for 11 in the shootout on the season, losing all 3 they have participated in. To put that into context, that’s as many losses as the rest of the Western Conference combined.
The biggest loss of the season may not have come on the scoreboard, however. Patric Hornqvist suffered a lower body injury in the third period and has been sidelined indefinitely. If he’s out for an extended period of time, the blow could be a big one, as he was team’s leading goalscorer a year ago and is of the more reliable offensive contributors on the team.
Now 1-1-1 through the first three games of a seven game road trip—their longest this year—the Predators are already at a critical juncture in their season. Their next four opponents are all playoff teams from a year ago, including the Stanley Cup champions who are looking to turn their own season around.
Replacing Hornqvist will not be easy, and it may take some trial and error, but it has to come quickly. In a season that’s a sprint from start to finish, there will be no time to stumble over a hurdle or two and expect success.