Penguins are struggling but they have nothing on the Predators



The Nashville Predators are the only NHL team that must clear out of its home arena for a good stretch of time each season to make way for the Country Music Association Awards.

This time, the team practically needed to file a change of address with the post office.

The Predators wind up a franchise record-tying long road trip with a game against the Penguins tonight at Consol Energy Center. How long has Nashville’s trip been?

“We’ve been on the road for so long that we had a guy who got a concussion and returned,” coach Barry Trotz said Thursday after the Predators practiced at Consol Energy Center. “We had a guy who had a baby and returned. We’ve had a guy who was sent down [to the American Hockey League for four games] and has returned to the team before we’ve even gotten home yet.

“The trip has been long.”

It started Halloween night, a 5-4 shootout loss at Phoenix. Then came wins at Los Angeles and Colorado followed by 5-0 losses at Winnipeg and New Jersey and a 3-1 loss against the New York Islanders.

That puts the Predators in the same predicament as the Penguins, even though the Penguins have not had to endure a seven-game, two-week-plus road swing.

Each team has lost three games in a row and is looking to break out before the slump becomes uglier. And each team hopes to do that against an unfamiliar opponent.

The Penguins and Predators have played just 17 times, including just six meetings over the past nine seasons.

“It’s a team we don’t know as well, but, ultimately, we’re looking to win and so are they,” Penguins forward Craig Adams said. “I don’t think it’s anything more than that. We’ll have to do some watching of some tape on them to find out what they’re all about.”

The teams didn’t meet last season because there was no interconference play after a lockout.

Several Penguins have faced Nashville only a handful of times, and five never have played against the Predators.

“I grew up in LA, so I kind of know the Western Conference just from watching it a lot,” said Penguins winger Beau Bennett, who has not played against Nashville.

“It will be pretty cool to play Nashville. You love the rivalry nights against Philly, against the Rangers and whatnot, but it’s nice to get a new team in here and battle it out against an opponent that we’re not too familiar with.”

The Predators also have young players who haven’t faced the Penguins but certainly are familiar with them from afar as one of the league’s marquee clubs.

“I’ve already heard them speak a little bit about the opportunity they have,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “They’ve been on the road a lot and haven’t played real well. They’re looking at this as an opportunity to come play the Pittsburgh Penguins, a tough test. They talk about playing well against the good teams.

“I’m more looking at a team that’s one we don’t know very well and one that I think is ready for a response in how they play. Having lost three games in a row, we’re looking for that opportunity to get a win as well.”

Bylsma has a point, said Nashville rookie defenseman Seth Jones.

“For sure, that’s who I grew up watching,” Jones said of the Penguins. “It’s kind of cool playing against them, but I think when you get in trouble when you play against them is when you start watching them.

“You’ve got to think that you belong on the ice with them and you can play with them, or else you’re not going to see them and they’re going to blow right by you.”

Trotz, who gave his players a day off Wednesday in Manhattan, said time has seemed to slow as the trip drags on.

“The trip is longer because we’ve lost three games in a row,” he said. “The first three games went by like that [snaps his fingers].

“Now, are we a confident team right now? Probably not. We’ve lost three in a row, and anytime you’ve lost three in a row you probably doubt yourself a little bit. That’s what we have to work through as a group.”

The Predators are playing without No. 1 goaltender Pekka Rinne, who has a hip infection, and even though they are a .500 club (8-8-2), they sit last in the Central Division with 18 points.

But they were 6-2-1 in the nine games before this road odyssey. Their first game back home comes quickly — Saturday — against defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago.

“We’ve got to get a win,” said Nashville top defenseman Shea Weber. “We’ve got make this road trip a good one.

“It started off on the right track, and we’ve kind of tailed off, but we’ve got to finish off strong and get a win before we head back home. I don’t think anybody wants to go home without at least a good fight anyway.”


Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.

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