The difference between the Nashville Predators and most of the rest of the NHL — or so the thinking went at the start of the season — was that their was little difference between their group of forwards and the one that finished 2011-12.
Things sure have changed. Consistently.
Austin Watson became the 18th different forward to appear in a game for the Predators this season when he made his NHL debut Sunday at Chicago. The 2010 first-round draft pick logged 13:47 of ice time and added to Nashville’s inconsistency in terms of personnel up front.
The issue has been injuries. Whether or not they are the primary reason the Predators’ playoff hopes are minimal — at best — they have not helped.
Nashville has lost three in a row, has earned just four points in its last seven games and has dropped to 13th in the Western Conference standings (five points behind eighth) as it opens a four-game homestand Tuesday against St. Louis (7 p.m., Bridgestone Arena). St. Louis has won four straight, three of them on the road.
“We’re playing with a few guys out and a few deletions from the trade deadline, so we’re a little thin,” coach Barry Trotz said Saturday.
Of the 10 Predators who have missed time this season because of injury or illness, seven are forwards including Paul Gaustad, who currently is out for the fourth time (14 games and counting) with an upper body injury. Patric Hornqvist has missed time with knee and shoulder injuries.
Of the 82 man-games Nashville has lost to injury through the first 40 games of this lockout-shortened campaign, 62 (76 percent) have been to forwards.
That translates to a pace for 127 in a full 82-game season or an increase of more than 50 percent over a year ago, when injuries kept forwards sidelined a total of 81 contests. Already Hornqvist (18), Gaustad (17) and Colin Wilson (15) have missed more games this season than any Predators forwards missed in 2011-12.
The rundown (players currently hurt in bold):
• Patric Hornqvist 18 games (10 sprained knee, eight upper body)
• Paul Gaustad 17 games (three, four, eight and two, respectively, all upper body)
• Colin Wilson 15 games (upper body)
• Mike Fisher four games (arm)
• Gabriel Bourque four games (upper body)
• Brandon Yip three games (upper body)
• Martin Erat one game (lower body)