Predators struggle to sustain in-division success under NHL's new scheduling format

The NHL’s new scheduling format should have been a good thing for the Nashville Predators.

Actually, it has in that it provides more games against Eastern Conference teams, which means shorter road trips and more TV-friendly start times for those who wish to tune in.

It also, however, means more games against the rest of the Central Division. That is a real problem because it has been a long time since the Predators have been so bad against the teams they face the most.

Realignment has meant fewer matchups with each individual division opponent (four or five) but 29 total for Western Conference teams, five more than under the previous format, which was used from 2008-09 though 2011-12.

Following Sunday’s 2-0 victory at Chicago, Nashville’s division mark is still just 10-12-2. Among the others in the Central, only Winnipeg and Dallas have fewer points in such contests.

A big part of the franchise’s success over the years has been its ability to match up with its division rivals, even when those were some of the league’s best teams (i.e. Detroit, Chicago). Since the shootout was implemented in 2005-06, the Predators never have had a losing division record in an 82-game schedule. Additionally, every playoff season has included a winning division record.

There was, of course, the debacle of last season’s lockout-shortened 48-game slate that included 18 division games. Nashville lost 15 of those (11 in regulation, four in overtime or a shootout), which set the franchise record for most division defeats in a season. One more and this year’s team will equal that mark. Even in the days of 32 division games (2005-06 through 2007-08) the Predators never lost more than 14.

A season-by-season look at the Nashville Predators’ record in division games:

1998-99: 4-13-1

1999-00: 6-8-2-2
2000-01: 8-11-1-0
2001-02: 7-10-3-0
2002-03: 6-9-4-1
2003-04: 11-9-2-2

2005-06: 23-8-1
2006-07: 21-8-3
2007-08: 18-9-5
2008-09: 12-9-3
2009-10: 14-8-2
2010-11: 13-9-2
2011-12: 16-5-3
2012-13: 3-11-4
2013-14: 10-12-2

Obviously, the composition of the Central Division is different than in previous seasons but that’s not the problem. Nashville’s record against newcomers Colorado, Minnesota, Dallas and Winnipeg is 7-7-1, which is slightly better than against holdovers Chicago and St. Louis (3-5-1).

The good news is that the Predators still can emerge from this season with a winning division record. Of their 10 remaining contests five are against Central opponents, including Tuesday (versus Colorado) and Friday (at Dallas). Then again, they also have plenty of opportunities to match or even surpass last season’s number of defeats.