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Behind Enemy Lines: Nashville Predators make big changes, seeing little return so far

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Last place in their division after ten games, the new-look Predators need to get in gear - and quick.

NHL: Dallas Stars at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

On June 29, the New Jersey Devils acquired Taylor Hall from the Edmonton Oilers, pulling off what many assumed would be the biggest deal of the offseason.

Turns out, it wasn't even the biggest deal of the day.

Ten minutes later, the Nashville Predators traded their longtime captain, Shea Weber, to the Montreal Canadiens, receiving in return the uber-talented yet inexplicably out-of-favor P.K. Subban. Four years younger and arguably more talented than Weber, Subban was supposed to be the missing piece that would propel Peter Laviolette’s club to the top of the Western Conference.

So far, the return hasn't matched the investment. Stuck in the Central Division basement, one point above the Coyotes for last in the conference, the Preds have gotten unexpectedly subpar goaltending from Pekka Rinne and an unusually low 5.6% even-strength shooting percentage.

James Neal, who has one goal to show for his team-high 40 shots, encapsulates the Preds’ troubles. Long a team that prided themselves on getting contributions from all over the lineup, the Preds can’t buy a goal from anywhere this year.

"We feel like we're just not playing up to our potential right now," captain Mike Fisher told the Tennessean. "Individually, as a group, you know you're a better team. When you're not getting the results, it's frustrating."

Not to mention, out of character for coach Peter Laviolette, traditionally one of the more offensively-minded coaches in the NHL. Last year, the Preds finished 12th in goals scored. So far this season, they're 23rd.

The Preds have shown signs that they may be turning the corner. They fired five goals past the Avalanche on Tuesday and lost to the Coyotes in a shootout Thursday, ending a five-game road trip in which they went 1-2-2. Like the Hurricanes, they are desperate for some home cooking, with tonight’s game the start of a four-game homestand.

Subban has clearly taken to his new surroundings off the ice, memorably twisting his shirt around his head like a helicopter (WHO AM I) last month before a Tennessee Titans game. The Preds hope that before long, he'll prove to be the spark plug that they were expecting to get in June.

If not, it may be too late. In the NHL’s toughest division, the Preds are playing a dangerous game. By the time their shooting and goaltending come around, they may be too far behind.

Laviolette has earned a reputation as a quasi-patron saint of reclamation projects, and getting the Preds to the postseason may well rank alongside the improbable 112-point regular season he authored in Raleigh eleven seasons ago.

The changes the Preds made in the offseason haven't borne fruit yet. Their third straight playoff appearance hangs in the balance, and they are running short on time to turn it around.