(SportsNetwork.com) - Wins came easily for the Nashville Predators for most of the season, but that has clearly not been the case lately for the struggling Central Division leaders.
The Predators hope to halt a five-game losing streak when they host the Winnipeg Jets in Saturday's clash at Bridgestone Arena.
Before losing its last five games in regulation, Nashville hadn't lost more than two tests in a row at any point this season. In fact, the Preds never even dropped consecutive games until losing to Detroit and Montreal on Jan. 17 and 20.
Prior to the current slide, the Predators went 0-1-1 in their only three losing streaks of 2014-15. With zero points gained over the last five trips to the ice, even an overtime or shootout loss tonight would look good to Nashville.
As a result of the slide, the Predators have lost their handle on the NHL's best record and now sit two points behind Anaheim for that distinction. Nashville is still four points ahead of St. Louis for first place in the Central Division, but the Blues, who visit Toronto on Saturday, hold two games in hand over the Predators.
Three of Nashville's losses during the slide have come on home ice, including Thursday's 4-3 setback to the New York Islanders. The Predators fought back to tie the game after trailing 3-1 in the third period, but Brock Nelson delivered the game-winner for the visiting Isles with 6:08 remaining in regulation.
Peter Laviolette, who is in his first season as Nashville's head coach, stressed the importance of staying together as a team after Thursday's tough loss.
"I really think we have to look at this as a team, and we will get out of this together," said Laviolette. "Our guys have done an excellent job of staying tight as a group, and there are a lot of things that could have been better tonight too. We still gave up scoring chances; it's one of those things we could do better, but I think it's important to stay together right now."
Craig Smith, Colin Wilson and Mike Ribeiro scored for Nashville in the loss, while Pekka Rinne allowed all four New York goals on 26 shots.
The Preds hope to snap their three-game home slide tonight. They are 26-6-1 as the host on the season.
Winnipeg also hopes to get back on track tonight after losing four of its last six games. The club hasn't made the playoffs since relocating from Atlanta prior to the 2011-12 campaign and is just two points ahead of Los Angeles for the final wild card spot in the West. The Kings host Pittsburgh on Saturday.
The Jets fell 3-1 to Ottawa on Wednesday and wrapped a four-game homestand with a 2-1-1 mark. In addition to the game, the club also lost defenseman/forward Dustin Byfuglien to an upper-body injury that expects to keep him sidelined for at least two weeks. Centerman Bryan Little also suffered an undisclosed injury in the loss and will be out tonight.
Byfuglien is fourth on the team with 42 points on 15 goals and 27 assists. Little, who is with the Jets for the start of this road trip, is leading the club with 24 goals and is second on the team with 51 points.
Michael Frolik was the only Jet to score against Ottawa goaltender Andrew Hammond, while Michael Hutchinson allowed three goals on 17 shots in the loss. Hutchinson was replaced with just over eight minutes to play in the second by Ondrej Pavelec, who stopped all three shots he faced.
"Hammond played really well, but we had a couple opportunities to put it in and couldn't," said Winnipeg forward Andrew Ladd. "It was one of those nights. We'll put this one behind us and move forward into this next stretch of games that are really important."
Winnipeg is beginning a four-game trip tonight and is 15-10-7 as the guest. The Jets have lost in two straight and six of their last seven trips to the Music City.
Tonight's test marks the finale of the season series and Nashville owns a 3-1-0 mark against the Jets so far. Winnipeg has lost eight of 11 overall in this matchup.
Rinne is expected to start tonight as he attempts to maintain a perfect career mark against the Jets. Over eight lifetime appearances (seven starts) versus Winnipeg, the Finnish veteran is 7-0 with a 2.04 goals against average.