Perhaps a stretch of three games in five days, all on the road, can help the Nashville Predators find the level of play they are looking for to move into the lead in the NHL's Central Division.
The first chance for a victory will come Tuesday when the Predators open a three-game California swing with a matchup at Anaheim against an unpredictable Ducks team. From there, Nashville will have games at the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday and at the San Jose Sharks on Saturday.
At 39-26-5 (83 points), the Predators are one point behind the Central Division-leading Winnipeg Jets.
The Jets' mediocre play over the last month (6-8-2 since Feb. 5) has afforded the Predators ample opportunity to move in front in the division. Nashville has gone 8-7-1 in that same timeframe to tighten the division race, knowing that an extended run of success would have put them firmly into first place by now.
Instead, the Predators fell 5-3 to the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday in a game where they committed four first-period penalties, including one for too many men on the ice when they were on a power play. It led to Carolina's second goal of the opening period.
"We're pushing," Predators forward Craig Smith said. "We know what we have to do and I think that we're putting in the work to get there. Sometimes it doesn't go for you, but lately I thought we put the work in and I think we're doing the right things. We have the right people and enough people in here to do the job."
Of the Predators' 12 remaining games, seven are against teams firmly in the playoff hunt. They also have four of the bottom five teams in the Western Conference on the schedule, including the next two when they face the Ducks and Kings.
The Ducks are just 27-34-9 (63 points) this season, next to last in the West. But Anaheim has played a far better brand of hockey in recent weeks, winning three of its last five games and scoring 15 goals in one three-game span.
They are coming off a 3-2 defeat to the Kings, the conference's worst team, in a rivalry game that was far more spirited than the standings would have suggested.
The difference was the Ducks' slow start when they took just two shots in the opening period and trailed 3-1. They were far better in the third period, but by then it proved to be too late.
"They decided to get back to playing the way we've been playing the last two or three weeks: getting back, getting out of our end, supporting the puck and getting out a lot cleaner," Ducks assistant coach Marty Wilford said about the better third-period effort. "In the first period alone, we had 18 or 19 turnovers. That's uncharacteristic of how we've been in the last two or three weeks."
Predators forward Filip Forsberg missed Saturday's game and is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. Also day-to-day for Nashville are defenseman Dan Hamhuis (leg) and right wing Miikka Salomaki (upper body).
The Ducks have three players listed as day-to-day: center Ryan Kesler (hip), defenseman Brendan Guhle (undisclosed) and goaltender Chad Johnson (head).
--Field Level Media
Predators open California trip against Ducks
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