It was not that long ago that the Nashville Predators rode a wave of victories against Central Division opponents to some of the best seasons in franchise history.
Now, they’re fighting to stay afloat.
At the start of play Wednesday, the Predators were sixth in the Western Conference standings but just fourth in the division. In fact, there were just five teams in the entire NHL with at least 60 points, and three of them were the Detroit Red Wings (61). St. Louis Blues (60) and Chicago Blackhawks (60).
Of Nashville’s remaining 36 games, 13 are against division opponents, including each of the next four. The first is Thursday at Columbus (6 p.m., Fox Sports-Tennessee). After that come matchups at home against Chicago (7 p.m. Saturday) and Columbus (7 p.m. Monday) followed by a trip to Chicago (7:30 p.m. Tuesday) to cap a stretch of six games in nine days prior to the All-Star break.
Those contests come on the heels of a 3-0 loss Tuesday to the New York Rangers, the only Eastern Conference team with 60 or more points as of Wednesday morning.
The Predators set franchise records for points (110) and wins (51) in 2006-07, numbers fueled by a combined 19-3-2 mark against Chicago, St. Louis and Columbus. The following season they were 17-6-3 against those same three clubs and finished eighth in the conference, three points ahead of ninth-place Edmonton.
Shortly past the halfway point of this season they have gone 7-2-2 against the Central Division. Three of those victories (and one overtime defeat) are against Columbus — the NHL’s worst team. Three more, though, are against St. Louis.
Less than a week from now, Nashville will have concluded its season series with the Blue Jackets but will have three games remaining each against the Red Wings, Blues and Blackhawks.
When all is said and done, it is not likely that the Predators’ division record will be as good as it was a few years ago.
This season, though, it seems they don’t need to be better than the bulk of the teams in the Central. Being just as good ought to be good enough.