We’ve come to the quarter mark of the NHL season, and the Nashville Predators are sitting pretty on top of the league standings with a record of 15-5-1. The reigning Presidents’ Trophy winners have picked up right where they left off with some solid play and a great start to the season. But it hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows throughout the journey to this point. Let’s take a look at some highlights (and lowlights) of the campaign in this early season review.
Starting from preseason, General Manager David Poile was adamant in his belief of the team he had built. And why not? The depth on this team is STOUT! I’m talking like a weightlifter that just took a double dose of pre-workout mix and is about to deadlift a truck kind of stout. This kind of “next man up” mentality they have produced will prove to be extremely beneficial. The Preds’ core pretty much stayed the same from last year with some minor changes made. Guys like Alexei Emelin, Scott Hartnell, and Mike Fisher left the club, and were replaced by Zac Rinaldo and Dan Hamhuis. Rocco Grimaldi and Frederick Gaudreau were also promoted from the AHL team in Milwaukee after strong showings in their preseason opportunities.
Right out of the gates, the Preds came to play with the fiery passion we all expected and jumped to a 7-1-0 record. This included 2 shutouts, 1 for each goalie. Sidenote: the Rinne/Saros tandem is arguably the best goalie corps in the league with save percentages of .942 and .903 respectively. But fortune did not shine on Nashville for long as the injury bug hit hard and took out several key members of the squad. These casualties have included veteran defensemen Dan Hamhuis and PK Subban, along with Viktor Arvidsson, Calle Jarnkrok, and the big man himself, Pekka Rinne. Thankfully, in steps the ridiculous depth I alluded to earlier. During Rinne’s stretch on the IR, young Juuse Saros played out of his mind as the starter and guarded the net for 4 big wins against high caliber competition. Matt Irwin, Yannick Weber, and Anthony Bitetto have done well with filling in the gaps on defense and make for a pretty solid rotation on the 3rd D pairing. Bitetto was even called upon to double as a Winger against a fiesty Anaheim team (a 2-1 loss in the shootout). It wasn’t an ideal choice but he certainly didn’t seem to be a liability playing as a forward. Having that kind of utility is definitely worth some points in my book. Speaking of forwards, guys like Kyle Turris, Craig Smith, Ryan Hartman, and Calle Jarnkrok (now back from injury) have stepped up immensely in the goal scoring department. That, in turn, has taken the pressure off Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg on the first line and they seem to be playing with more freedom in their game. Sidenote: those two lead the team with a combined 17 goals and 22 assists in 21 games played!
Of course, no team is perfect and I feel it would be unjust if I didn’t point out the one giant flaw in this otherwise excellent team. The powerplay unit flat out sucks… Abysmal, awful, terrible, straight up dumpster fire, the list goes on and on. At just 13.6%, the Preds sit 2nd to last in the league on the powerplay. That’s actually an improvement from last I had seen due to them actually scoring on the PP against Tampa Bay. Compare that to last year’s numbers, which were tied for 12th in the league at 21.2%. Now I’m no hockey coach and I’ve certainly never played in the NHL, but I’d say the set play they’ve been working on for the offensive zone entry just isn’t working. It seems like they need to get back to the basics and get shots to the net (as cliche hockey as that is) rather than looking for the perfect pass and wasting time doing nothing with the puck. Maybe moving some pieces around in the lineup may do that unit some good.
Hilariously enough, this just means the vast majority of the Preds’ scoring comes from 5-on-5 stand-up hockey. With a goal differential of +21 and record of 15-5-1, I’d say they’re doing just fine. I’m confident the powerplay will get sorted out (the talent on this team is way too good for it not to) and when that happens, they’ll ascend to world beater status. Basically, this team is sick and I’m planning on riding their wave of confidence all the way to the Cup. Won’t you join me?
Let’s Go Preds!
Find Alan on Instagram at @APav1195!