The four points the Nashville Predators earned with victories over Minnesota and Colorado late last week were invaluable.
On the verge of losing contact with the top eight teams in the Western Conference standings, the Predators promptly thrust themselves back into the playoff race. At the end of play Sunday, they were alone in ninth place, one point out of eighth and just three points behind the fourth and fifth-place teams.
That’s not to say that Nashville’s performance in those two contests was equal.
“Each game has a different story line,” coach Barry Trotz said. “[Against Minnesota] we got off to a good start and really didn’t have much to worry about. We had a lot of length and detail. … We won the game we really set out to win, and we lost a little detail in our game [Saturday].”
That ‘loss of detail’ did not cost them the game against Colorado, which came to town one night after its 17th loss in its previous 18 games.
At least one veteran, though, was at a loss to explain how Nashville twice allowed the Avalanche to cut a two-goal lead in half before an empty-net goal sealed a 4-2 triumph. Just two nights earlier, after all, the Predators similarly jumped out to an early advantage over Minnesota and maintained a comfortable handle on the contest, not to mention a wide margin on the scoreboard as they cruised to a 4-0 rout.
“Once we scored those couple goals we definitely let off the gas,” Jerred Smithson said. “That’s something we have to work on. I figured we’d figure it out by now but obviously not. At this point of the season, in the position we are we can’t afford to do that.
“We’re a good enough team there where we should be able to clamp it down and finish games like that.”
The fact of the matter is that the Predators are not necessarily accustomed to playing with the lead.
Through 70 games, they have scored the first goal 25 times, 10 fewer than they’ve allowed the first goal. They’ve also been behind at the start of the second and third periods much more often then they’ve led at those points.
So it was unusual when they were in front of Minnesota 3-0 after 20 minutes and on top of Colorado 2-0 at the same juncture. It also, however, set a positive precedent at the start of a five-game homestand, which continues this week against Los Angeles (Tuesday), Boston (Thursday) and Detroit (Saturday).
“We’re coming out hard right off the bat and playing with some energy in the first period and letting teams know they’re in for a long haul,” Smithson said. “We’re going to go out and work hard and do what we have to do for us to grab that lead early.”
Now their goal is to be more consistent in maintaining that advantage.
“It’s something we’re going to have to work on because these next few games are going to be the same situation,” Smithson said. “They’re going to be one- or two-goal games and battling right to the end. We have to clean things up.”
Particularly given how cluttered the playoff chase is.
“You always want to get off to a good start and those types of things and we’ve been able to do that,” Trotz said. “ … Bottom line is at the end of the year we got four points in these two games.”