It’s not often that a struggling NHL player gets a three-week break to assess his game, heal his wounds and return to the ice with a new attitude. The Predators are hoping that’s one of the benefits of the Olympic break, which will end Thursday when Nashville takes on Tampa Bay at Bridgestone Arena. With just 23 games left and ground to make up in the Western Conference playoff chase, the Predators need a handful of forwards to snap out of slumps that have plagued them for the better part of the season. Maybe a fresh start will be a difference-maker for players such as Gabriel Bourque (one goal in his past 31 games), Matt Cullen (no goals in his past 29), Colin Wilson (no goals in his past 19) and Patric Hornqvist (two goals in his past 18). “I look at our top nine guys and there’s probably three guys that have gone on into real long droughts for us,” coach Barry Trotz said, referencing Cullen, Wilson and Hornqvist. “We’re not built where we have a top six. We try to rely on a top nine to give us offense, and when you have three of the top nine not producing, or going a little bit dry, it makes it a little tough. Those guys that have been in some droughts, this (break) gives them an opportunity.” Bourque was never a huge goal-scorer in juniors or in the minor leagues, but he raised expectations last year when he scored 11 goals in just 34 games. But it’s been a struggle to produce this year for the 23-year-old, who has just five goals and 12 assists in 52 games. “I’ve thought a lot about that myself,” Bourque said. “Hopefully the break will help. But I just want to keep things simple and keep working hard.” The good news for Bourque is that his all-around game has been making strides over the past few weeks. He posted a plus-11 rating over the past 14 games and also saw more time on the penalty kill. “His overall game has been pretty decent,” Trotz said. “He just needs a little more production.” Wilson collected seven goals in just 25 games during the lockout-shortened season last year, but he has that same total — seven goals — through 58 games this season. The former first-round pick hasn’t scored since Dec. 30, so as far as Wilson was concerned, the Olympic break couldn’t have come at a better time. “You need to just recharge the batteries and get a different focus,” Wilson said. “When you’re not having the season you want, it’s usually hard to just get away from it midway through the season because you’re showing up to the rink every day in the same mood.” Wilson said he hopes to benefit from watching U.S. Olympian James Van Riemsdyk, a former linemate on junior national teams. “He’s going to the net every time and that’s where he’s getting his chances,” Wilson said. “He’s a big body, and that makes me realize that’s what you’ve got to do.” Said Trotz: “When he’s shooting the puck and taking it to the net, and thinking shot rather than pass all the time, I think he gets pretty good production.” Cullen has posted three assists in his past three games, but hasn’t scored a goal since Nov. 27. He should also benefit from the break, as injuries kept him out of six of the past seven contests. Then there’s Hornqvist, who’s totaled more than 20 goals in three seasons, but has just one in his past 14 contests. Maybe just as concerning is that he has a minus-11 rating over the past 12 games.
Nashville Predators hope time off helped players
Tennessean | Feb 22