NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Nashville Predators are in a “funk” and hope a couple hard practices between games can help them break out.
At least that’s the way captain Shea Weber explains the Predators’ mood after three straight road losses in California.
The Predators are back home after having gone 3-6-1 in their last 10. They have fallen to 11th in the West, though they are just three points out of fourth. They have 25 games left in the lockout-shortened season starting with Edmonton at home Friday night.
Coach Barry Trotz put his Predators through a hard practice Wednesday with another session planned for Thursday, the kind of work that’s been rare with three to four games a week this season. Weber said that’s exactly what they need right now.
“We got to find something,” he said. “Definitely we’ve got to get out of this funk, and I think it’s going to come from obviously hard work like we did out there and continue to play confident and try to get pucks to their nets and create second opportunities.”
Scoring is a special focus right now because the Predators’ offensive struggles have hit a new low.
They rank last in the NHL, averaging 1.96 goals through 23 games. Only two teams have scored less per game over a season since 1950-51. Tampa Bay averaged 1.84 goals a game in 1997-98, while the Chicago Blackhawks averaged 1.90 goals in a 53-game season in 1953-54, according to STATS LLC.
“When you’re losing, it’s tough to have confidence when it seems like you can’t do anything right,” Weber said. “You can’t score goals, you can’t win a game. And we’ve got to find a way to build confidence.”
Nashville’s scoring woes were unexpected for a franchise that ranked eighth last season, averaging 2.83 goals a game. The Predators only lost defenceman Ryan Suter (49 points) and forward Jordin Tootoo (30 points), along with late additions Andrei Kostitsyn (12 points in 19 games) and Alexander Radulov (seven points in nine games).
In search of an offensive spark, the Predators claimed Bobby Butler off waivers from New Jersey on Monday and Zach Boychuk from Pittsburgh on Tuesday. They also called up defenceman Victor Bartley from Milwaukee in the AHL on Wednesday. Trotz mixed the forwards in with his top lines Wednesday trying to shake up his team.
“Some guys have let their game slip,” Trotz said. “(Butler and Boychuk are) here for competition, and they’re looking to stay in the National Hockey League so they’re focused on trying to make it.”
The Predators haven’t been getting production anywhere close to what they managed last season. Top goal scorer Patric Hornqvist has missed time with a knee injury and has just two goals after scoring 27 last season. Mike Fisher has only four goals compared to 24 last season.
Martin Erat and David Legwand also are struggling. Erat had a team-high 58 points with 19 goals last season, but has just three goals so far. Legwand, second to Erat with 53 points and 19 goals, also has three.
Fisher said the Predators just need to focus on all the little aspects of their game and play their system. Then the scoring will follow.
“We can’t be holding our sticks too tight or getting worried and frustrated,” Fisher said. “We can’t be doing those things or it just gets worse. You just have to relax, play hard, play as a team, and we’ll be fine.”
The Predators also spent time Wednesday tinkering with their power play. A team that had the NHL’s best power-play unit last season, scoring 21.6 per cent of the time with the man advantage, now ranks 28th with a scoring rate of 13.7 per cent.
Weber said it isn’t easy to be confident when not scoring goals or winning games. But he believes the scoring will improve if they start playing good defence and generating chances by going to the opponent’s net. Luckily, only four NHL teams are allowing fewer goals than Nashville (2.39).
“We’re playing a little bit of perimeter hockey right now, but we’ve got capable guys that’ll go to the front of the net and score some big goals,” Weber said.
Trotz wants his Predators to focus on the final 25 games to determine their season. The Predators are the only team to advance to the Western semifinals each of the past two years, and they have gone to the post-season seven of the previous eight seasons.
“We’re three points back of the fourth spot,” Trotz said. “That’s not really dire yet. The dire truth is there are 12 teams that are all around you.”
Follow Teresa M. Walker on Twitter at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker