Predators watch Western Conference standings change at dizzying rate

Monday, January 10, 2011 at 10:33pm

Every day, somebody takes the time to update the board in the Nashville Predators’ team meeting room that displays the NHL Western Conference standings.

More often than not, Jerred Smithson does not even bother to look.

“I don’t check every day,” the veteran forward admitted. “I know they’re on the board and they’re there. It’s just important to get points, no matter how you get it done, whether it’s in a shootout, overtime or in [regulation].”

While it’s true that knowledge is power, it’s not necessarily worth it to know what the standings say on any particular morning because by that evening such information is utterly obsolete.

At the season’s midpoint (Nashville has played exactly half of its 82-game regular season schedule), there is precious little distinction in terms of postseason potential among the majority of the Western Conference’s 15 teams.

The Predators were in fourth place Monday morning following a successful three-game swing through California last week, during which they ran their win streak to five games, currently the NHL’s longest. Yet they were only four points ahead of the team in 12th place, St. Louis.

It was not long ago that Nashville was in 12th, which was not long after it had been in fourth.

“I glance at the standings, probably, but I don’t dwell on the standings,” coach Barry Trotz said. “That’s probably the best way to look at it. You look at all the games the [previous] night and how that affects the whole standings and you don’t dwell on it. You move on. You take a peek at it and see where things are falling and you go from there.”

The Predators throw themselves back into the fray — and begin the second half of their schedule — Tuesday against the Minnesota Wild (7 p.m., Bridgestone Arena).

The Wild have accumulated 13 points in their last 10 games and have averaged better than a point per game. They also trail the Predators by just three points, yet currently rank outside the top eight in the conference.

Following a trip to Florida on Thursday, Nashville then will play 25 of its next 26 against Western Conference opponents.

“The teams that we’re playing are in sort of a similar situation — a win and you can vault over them or a loss and you could be chasing them by four points,” Trotz said. “I think you can get too consumed with it in terms of a win or a loss. You have to keep it pretty even keel and just play well.

“When you lose a game, you just want to limit the damage. I think that’s the real key. If you lose a game you have to win the next one — then you limit the damage.”

If not, you’re almost certain to drop in the conference standings.

“It seems like the last two years it’s been like that in February or March. But this year it seems like it was November and everything was all clogged up already,” Smithson said. “It makes it fun. It makes almost every game that much more important — a playoff atmosphere almost.”

For some, it’s going to be the only playoff experience they get this season.