Why the Predators Are The Team to Beat in the West
By Patrick Hoffman
After making it to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history last season, many wondered if the Nashville Predators could do the same thing this year.
As of this writing (March 9, 2018), the Preds are the second best team in the entire National Hockey League and are actually just one point behind the Tampa Bay Lightning for the best record in the league. For a team that played into the middle of June last year, this is quite impressive.
The team is currently (March 9, 2018) in the middle of a franchise record 10-game winning streak and are now (March 9, 2018) 44-14-9 on the season. While the streak does come at the hands of a favorable schedule during this stretch, one impressive team that they did beat was the Winnipeg Jets in a thrilling 6-5 come from behind victory.
Predators' netminder Pekka Rinne is one of the main reasons behind the team's success this season. As of this writing (March 9, 2018), Rinne, 35, is 37-9-4 with a 2.28 goals against average, a .928 save percentage, and 7 shutouts.
With his fine play between the pipes, Rinne has certainly put himself in the Vezina Trophy conversation as the league's top goaltender. He has been one of the most consistent masked men this season and if he can find a way to play this way in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, he may just put his team in a good position to potentially win their first Cup in franchise history.
The team has also had balanced production this season and has really showed their depth. They have been able to get solid production out of the likes of Viktor Arvidsson (25 goals and 26 assists for 51 points), Filip Forsberg (18 goals and 30 assists for 48 points), Ryan Johansen (10 goals and 34 assists for 44 points), Kevin Fiala (21 goals and 21 assists for 42 points), and Craig Smith (21 goals and 19 assists for 40 points).
Of course, you cannot talk about the team's success without mentioning the play of their defense. Not only is the team second in the league (As of March 9, 2018) in goals against with 165 allowed in 67 games, but they are also providing a lot of offense.
Guys like P.K. Subban (15 goals and 35 assists for 50 points), Roman Josi (10 goals and 34 assists for 44 points), and Mattias Ekholm (9 goals and 21 assists for 30 points) have all been able to contribute offensively season. Defenseman Ryan Ellis, who missed significant time with a knee injury, has also been extremely impressive with 21 points (6 goals and 15 assists) in just 29 games.
Lastly, a lot of credit has to go to the team general manager David Poile. Poile, who recently became the league's all time winningest GM, has seemingly made all the right deals for his hockey club and has always put them in good position to be a successful hockey club.
With the playoffs right around the corner, don't be surprised if this team ends up having a huge parade in their city come the middle of June.
Previously, Patrick has covered the NHL for Sportsnet.ca, Kukla’s Korner, Spector’s Hockey, About.com, NHL Network Radio blog, TheHockeyNews.com, The Fourth Period, Stan Fischler’s “The Fischler Report”, as well as a slew of others.