Following Sunday night's loss to the Flames, the Predators find themselves on the outside looking in when it comes to the Western Conference playoff race. The Preds are in 11th place with 75 points, but are just one point out of a playoff spot.
Let's think about this rationally for a second. Matthew Lombardi, Cal O'Reilly, Steve Sullivan, Francis Bouillon, and Marcel Goc are all out of the line-up for Nashville. That is three centers, one winger, and one defenseman. Let's take a look at each one of them individually:
Matthew Lombardi: Set a career high in points last season with 53. He has not played for the Predators since the 2nd game of the season in Chicago. He is one of the fastest(if not THE fastest) skaters in the NHL. He's had continual symptoms of a concussion throughout the entire season and is almost definitely out for the rest of the season, perhaps longer.
Cal O'Reilly: Suffered a broken leg on January 2nd versus the Columbus Blue Jackets. O'Reilly was having a career year for the Predators before his injury. He had 18 points in 38 games and was our top-line center when he went out.
Steve Sullivan- Is out with a groin injury and will be out for the next 4-6 weeks, which is essentially the rest of the season. Sully has not been playing well this year. Out of all of the injured players, this is probably the one that hurts the team the least. He hasn't had the same jump(partially due to injury) and hasn't had the same Hockey IQ.
Francis Bouillon- Led the Predators in hits before he was injured, and is also out with a concussion. He's a valuable player who is defensively responsible. No time table for his return has been listed.
Marcel Goc- Arguably has been the best forward for the Predators this year. He's come up clutch in some games, and had a career year before injuring his shoulder for the 2nd time this season. He's out for the rest of the year.
As you gaze on the standings in the Western Conference, you have to ask yourself what the Preds can do to right the ship. However, after looking at the list of injuries the Preds have, is it possible that the struggles of late have been simply due to a team whose injuries have finally caught up to them?
Lombardi, O'Reilly and Sullivan are all thought to be offensive threats. I'd even throw Goc into that category the way he was playing this year. Added to that, is the J.P. Dumont situation. While it's painfully obvious that Dumont has not produced at all this year, he's another player who was thought to be a legitimate offensive threat coming into the season.
So how do the Predators fix this problem? They've got a lot of players hurt(more than the average NHL team does). The start to solving the problem has to be in showing a little more sense of urgency. I'm pefectly sure that the Preds are frustrated. I'm sure they're desperate. I'm sure they want to win just as much as I do(hopefully more). However, it doesn't come across that way when you watch this team in the 3rd period.
Nashville doesn't have the luxury of making crucial defensive mistakes or turnovers. The Predators do not want to get in an offensive struggle with other teams. Their game is to play lockdown defense and try to grind out a few goals to get a victory. The Preds are not going to blow anyone away offensively. Having said that, the Predators have got to get better on one fundamental aspect of hockey: communication.
The Preds have had breakdowns in communication that have cost them this season. If they'll get better with knowing where people are and where the puck is supposed to go, they'll find more success offensively and defensively.
This is the most important week of the season, and possibly in the history of the franchise. The Preds have got to make a push if they want to reach the postseason. If I had to guess, they need to win 11 out of the last 16 games. That's a tall order, especially given the way that Nashville has been playing lately. However, they don't really have a choice at this point. It's time to put up or shut up.