S ince the 2003-04 NHL season, the Nashville Predators have been a playoff mainstay.
Until this season, the team had appeared in 7 of the last 8 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The lone miss was the 2008-09 season when the team finished in 10th place in the West, 3 points out of the final playoff spot.
In this lockout-shortened 48-game season, however, the Predators were never able to string together anything resembling consistency. They were only able to string together consecutive wins on 3 occasions, with the 3 streaks being 4 games, 3 games and 2 games. On 9 different occasions, Nashville was shut out – 3 times the number of shutouts that the team experienced in the full 2011-12 season.
When the dust settled, the Nashville Predators were on the outside looking in. In fact, they were well on the outside, finishing with the NHL’s 4th worst record.
“It was just a very difficult, unique year,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “With the injuries compounding on that, it became a little bit of a train wreck from a competitive standpoint. We played hard, but at the end of the day, we didn’t have enough bullets. We went into a fight – we had a knife, they had a gun. Unless we snuck up on them, we were going to lose that one.”
To say that injuries affected the team would be an understatement. Two of Nashville’s top 3 goal scorers – Mike Fisher and Gabriel Bourque – missed significant time on the season. Both Bourque and forward Colin Wilson suffered season-ending injuries – Bourque’s occurred while he was leading the team in goal-scoring, Wilson’s as he led the team in overall scoring.
In all, the team was so injury-plagued over the season that only 3 players – Roman Josi, David Legwand and Shea Weber – played in every game. In addition to Bourque, Fisher and Wilson, Paul Gaustad, Hal Gill, Patric Hornqvist and Brandon Yip each missed over 10 games due to injury. Defenseman Scott Hannan, who was traded at the trade deadline, also missed significant time with an injury.
However, the injuries affected the team beyond game production. In a season in which practice time was already limited, injuries would affect the personnel that Nashville had available to practice. Because of the condensed schedule, even players who appeared in more games would sit out practices so that they could be game-ready.
“We were coaching off of the seat of our pants,” Trotz said. “There were injuries – we’d get to practice and our trainer would come in and go, ‘You’re not going to have this guy tonight, you’re not going to have this guy.’ We would go to players and say, ‘We’ve got to be honest – if you can’t practice, you shouldn’t practice because something is ailing you.’ We had a lot of guys who blocked shots and their foot would be swollen the next day and we’d be okay, let it settle down the following day instead of practice, get hit with another puck and just let it affect your performance.”
According to Trotz, at some practices the coaching staff would literally have to change the entire schedule for the day on the fly because there would not be enough players available to work on drills that were planned.
At the conclusion of the season, not only did the Predators finish in last in the Central Division, they finished tied for last in the league in scoring, second to last on the penalty kill and last in the league in shooting.
After Nashville lost to Columbus in their season finale, the team appeared to feel more of a burden on their shoulders than a relief of the end of a difficult season.
“It’s just disappointing,” defenseman Kevin Klein said. “The year comes to an end every year. You want to be the one hoisting the Cup. You don’t want to be going home golfing.”