Predators' remaining schedule offers promise, potential pitfalls

Wednesday, March 9, 2011 at 10:47pm

Location. Location. Location.

On the one hand, the Nashville Predators are not happy with where they currently reside in the NHL’s Western Conference standings (10th place prior to Wednesday’s contests).

On the other hand, they could not be happier with where they are, which is at home. Nashville has 15 games remaining in the regular season and 12 of them are at Bridgestone Arena, beginning Thursday against Minnesota.

The Predators lead the league in goals-against average at home (2.07) and have earned 37 of a possible 58 points in their 29 home games thus far (15-7-7).

Seven of the remaining contests are against teams currently in playoff position.

A look at what’s left for Nashville:

• Thursday: vs. Minnesota, home.
The Wild come to town with a one-point edge in the standings but two more regulation victories and four more overtime (non-shootout) victories in the same amount of games. This is an absolute must-win — and to do so in regulation would be a real plus.

• Saturday: vs. Colorado, home.
The Avalanche are one of two opponents Nashville will face twice more before the end of the season. They also have the second-worst record in the West. The Predators won the first two in the season series and must take advantage of the two remaining opportunities.

• Tuesday: vs. Los Angeles, home.
The first three meetings this season have been high-scoring affairs, with the winner scoring at least four goals each time. Given that the Kings have one of the best goal differentials in the West, it’s a little surprising that Nashville has won two of the three and has outscored Los Angeles 12-7.

• March 17: vs. Boston, home.
Good news for those who believe in trends. This is the fifth straight season these teams play just a single game, and they have alternated victories over the previous four. Nashville won in 2006-07 and 2008-09 while Boston was victorious in 2007-08 and 2009-10, which means it’s the Predators’ turn.

• March 19: vs. Detroit, home.
The Red Wings are the only other team to show up twice in the remaining schedule, but unlike the Avalanche will make two appearances at Bridgestone Arena. Detroit typically brings out the best in the Predators and at this time of year, that would be a good thing.

• March 20: vs. Buffalo, away.
In the last two seasons, Nashville has managed to make this the kind of game it prefers — low-scoring — with a combined total of three goals. The previous two years, the Sabres scored 15 goals in just two meetings. The Predators cannot let Buffalo gets its offense cranked up in its own building.

• March 22: vs. Edmonton, home.
If Nashville narrowly misses out on the playoffs, it will bemoan the fact that it earned just three points in the first three meetings with the Western Conference’s worst team. Now that the Oilers are without injured rookie star Taylor Hall, there seems no reason the Predators should not get these two points.

• March 24: vs. Anaheim, home.
The good news is the Predators have scored four goals in all three games against the Ducks thus far. The bad news is they won only two of them and the one they lost was one of the season’s true heartbreakers.

• March 26: vs. Dallas, home.
The bad news is the Predators have scored just five goals total in the three games against the Stars so far. The good news is they managed to win one of them, a 1-0 affair back in October when Dallas had not yet lost in regulation.

• March 29: vs. Vancouver, home.
Chances are by this time the Canucks will have locked up the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and possibly even home-ice advantage throughout the entirety of the playoffs. Nashville ought to have an edge in motivation — possibly a huge one.

• March 31: vs. Colorado, away.
This starts a favorable five-game run to the finish during which — barring some sort a miraculous rally — Nashville will face four opponents that ought to be eliminated by this point. It will be up to the Predators to kick those teams, including the Avalanche, while they’re down as they attempt to complete the climb into the postseason.

• April 2: vs. Detroit, home.
A Saturday night at Bridgestone Arena. The Red Wings in town. Presumably, the Predators still will have plenty to play for. This one could be loud.

• April 5: vs. Atlanta, home.
The Thrashers won an overtime decision from Nashville back in December. At that time, though, they were an up-and-coming team with a sparkling record (12-8-6). Sometime after that, Atlanta endured a long, dreadful slide right back to mediocrity.

• April 8: vs. Columbus, home.
If Nashville is still right on the cusp of the playoff race, this is a perfect scenario — the final home game of the season against a team it defeats much more often than not. An early goal in this one could make all the difference.

• April 9: vs. St. Louis, away.
No opposing goalie has had the Predators’ number this season to the extent that St. Louis’ Jaroslav Halak has (three wins, two shutouts). If the Predators arrive at the final day of the regular season in a do-or-die situation, he is the last one they want to see — particularly in the Blues’ building.