It used to be that a trip through the Western Canadian provinces would send the NHL’s Nashville Predators home battered and bruised.
Not so, this week. The Predators, even with their struggles for consistency this season, are halfway through a four-game swing and have two wins under their belt.
They look to extend that streak to three games on Saturday when they visit the Edmonton Oilers. Nashville beat the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 in overtime Tuesday and the faltering Calgary Flames 3-2 on Thursday.
“We’re coming around and getting a little bit more consistency to our game,” said head coach John Hynes after Thursday’s tilt in Calgary. “Mentally, our attention to detail, our pushback and certain components of the game is something we really addressed.”
He knows there’s more to winning and making the Western Conference playoffs but, he noted, his crew is finding ways to win. The last four wins they’ve posted have been one-goal victories, two in overtime.
“I think it builds belief, it builds confidence, but we’re doing enough things to win games,” he said. “The exciting thing, as a coach, is I still think there’s more here.”
Mikael Granlund scored his second straight game-winner against Calgary. The 27-year-old center from Finland acknowledged the parity in the Western Conference as teams head down the stretch to the playoffs.
“There’s a lot of teams who are in the same position as everybody, grinding for every single point, and you know these games are going to be tight games,” he said. “We just have to find a way to get out of those games with points, and we’ve been doing that lately.”
The Oilers are in a similar position, just recently at the other end of the winning scale. They posted a four wins in a five-game stretch, including an 8-3 victory over the rival Flames in Calgary on Feb. 1, but have lost two in a row this week.
On Thursday, they were up 2-0 early in the first but then sat back and let the Sharks score five times before they could muster another goal.
“Even though we were up two, they were still taking the play to us,” said Connor McDavid, who scored once. “We found a way to get a couple, which was good, but they took it to us all night.”
Defenseman Darnell Nurse, a pending free agent due to re-sign or get traded by the Feb. 24 deadline, said the Oilers have to look inward for the solution to getting back in the win column.
“It’s on us to find a way to motivate each other,” the 25-year-old said. “We’re in a tight race, and you come and play a team in your division that’s a good veteran [team] that knows it’s never out of it. We have to find a way to play hard in those games.”
The Oilers have a solid young defensive corps with Nurse, Evan Bouchard, Caleb Jones, Ethan Bear and William Lagesson. They’re missing the consistency up front, even with McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who can often be counted on for multi-point games. Up-and-comer Kailer Yamamoto, of Spokane, Wash., is causing a bit stir with five goals and 11 points since joining the team on New Year’s Eve.
Oilers head coach Dave Tippett said his team needs to play with more intensity.
“We aren’t competing hard enough,” he said after the loss to the Sharks. “It’s going to get hard to win. If you’re not willing to pay the price to win, willing to block shots or box out men or compete on a one-on-one battle for a loose puck in front of your net … if you’re going to lose the majority of those, you’re not going to win any games.”
–Field Level Media