An offensive slump is pushing the Nashville Predators farther from the Western Conference playoff race and closer to the two teams at the bottom of the standings.
They'll try to end a three-game losing streak and reignite a desperate postseason push Friday night against the host Calgary Flames, who have surged to within five points of Nashville.
The Predators (29-31-10) are 3-7-0 in their last 10, getting held to one or no goals in each of the losses. They seemed to be back on track when they swept a three-game road trip March 10-14, totaling 11 goals, but they've since lost three straight while scoring twice.
The latest was a 2-0 defeat at Vancouver on Wednesday, during which Nashville held a 30-22 shot advantage.
"We've got to get some goals for our goaltender," coach Barry Trotz told the team's official website. "Carter Hutton had a good game for us. We need some production from our forwards. We've got virtually zero. If our defense aren't scoring, we're not scoring it seems like."
Hutton made 20 saves and has a 1.39 goals-against average in his last three games. Top goalie Pekka Rinne hasn't been quite as good, allowing nine goals in losing his last two starts.
The power play has had a significant role in the Predators' scoring issues. An 0-for-4 night in Vancouver left them at 2 for 33 in the last 10 games and 0 for 12 during the three-game skid.
Nashville's unlikely path to the postseason requires it to pass four teams in its last 12 contests, and the recent losses have it playing as much to stay out of the West cellar as to make the playoffs. In addition to the Flames, last-place Edmonton has been making up ground on the Predators recently.
Calgary (28-34-7) won for the third time in four games Tuesday, 3-1 over Buffalo.
The rebuilding Flames are playing largely free of expectations as the club takes an extended look at unproven players trying to establish themselves for next season.
"It's important because it's an audition," coach Bob Hartley told the team's official website. "It's a great audition for them. Right now, we're playing teams that they're fighting for a playoff spot; they're fighting to get a better spot in the top eight. We're living a playoff atmosphere.
"They might not feel the pressure, but still the games mean something. I think it's great for our learning process."
Among those players is rookie Joni Ortio, who needed to make only 13 saves against the Sabres to improve to 4-4-0 with a 2.16 GAA since debuting Feb. 27.
In front of him, veteran Michael Cammalleri has been providing plenty of offense. The center, rumored to be on the move prior to the trade deadline, has made the most of a less-climactic stretch run with five goals and two assists during a five-game point streak.
"I thought a few weeks ago, he was shooting as well as he is now, but it just seemed the puck would find a pad or find a post or miss the net," Hartley said. "Right now, Cammy's on fire."
This is the third and final meeting of the season between these clubs. The home team has won each, with the Flames earning a 5-4 shootout victory in the last matchup Jan. 24 despite four goals from the Predators' Eric Nystrom.
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