Don’t Be Shocked By Preds Success
Nearly three weeks in to the new season, Nashville sit atop the Central Division.
Whilst seeing them ahead of teams like Chicago and St Louis may raise eyebrows, it shouldn’t come as a shock the Tennessee franchise is back in the play-off hunt – but for some, it is perhaps the biggest surprise of the season so far.
Perhaps missing the post season in back-to-back years created the impression the organisation had lost its sparkle – that it somehow couldn’t compete in the West anymore.
But this is the franchise that became masters of making the play-offs, in spite of some very obvious short comings.
Missing the cut last year cost Barry Trotz his job, but what seems to have been lost over the summer is that just 3 points separated Nashville from a return to the play-offs.
There’s no hiding the fact Nashville struggled through the truncated 2012/13 season, going 16-23-9, but last season dealt a hammer blow to their chances when star netminder Pekka Rinne was sidelined for much of the season.
The giant Finn played just 24 games, as hip surgery and complications during his recovery put him on the shelf. Despite a solid effort from Carter Hutton, the absence of one of the best netminders in the NHL hit the club hard – as the traditionally stingy Predators blue line become a little more porous.
With Rinne back between the pipes, Nashville’s defensive unit – its greatest asset for a number of years now – looks formidable again. With perennial all star Shea Weber, blue chip prospect Seth Jones and the underrated Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis, Nashville is as strong as any team in the league in their own end.
New coach Pete Laviolette also has another significant advantage over his predecessor – a much improved group of forwards.
Whilst Mike Ribeiro and Derek Roy have much to prove following difficult campaigns in other cities, the Predators have rarely (if ever…) had depth at forward. Craig Smith is coming off the back of a 24 goal campaign, James Neal is a proven NHL sniper and Filip Forsberg is among the favourites for the Calder Trophy this season.
Even the bottom six looks stronger with proven performers like Olie Jokinen on board; and if either Mike Fisher or Matt Cullen can regain fitness, the Preds have to feel reasonably good about their chances in front of goal – especially under Laviolette.
There is of course no guarantee Nashville makes the cut. The Central is an extremely competitive Division (especially if Colorado gets its act together) and the West has 11 teams competing for 8 places.
But Nashville became the masters of making the post season, despite some very obvious short comings, under Trotz.
With an improved roster, one of the top 5 netminders in the league back and a strong blue line – is it so hard to believe a team that missed the post season by just 3 points last year is in the mix again?