The Nashville Predators are currently 7-2-2, top of the Central Division and second in the east behind the Anaheim Ducks, who have two games in hand.
They missed the playoffs last year, and the year before that. It’s a pretty drastic improvement.
They also lead the league in PDO, at 104.1; after them comes Pittsburgh, Calgary, Minnesota, and Toronto. Some of these teams are playoff teams. Some of them are not.
This seems familiar. The Predators could be the new Colorado Avalanche, you say, who were the new Leafs, who were really the new 2011-2012 Minnesota Wild. It’s a pattern that seems to repeat itself the past few years: team soars to the top, it’s unsustainable, and they either miss the playoffs in stunning fashion (the Leafs) or a have a meltdown in the first round (the Avalanche and also the Leafs).
It’s been eleven games, but there’s still a difference between Nashville and the Avalanche, or Nashville and even Calgary.
Last year Nashville was a poor-to-mediocre possession team with some of the league’s worst goaltending. They still finished with 88 points and stayed in the playoff race longer than many thought they would. Over the summer they traded for James Neal, signed Mike Ribeiro, Anton Volchenkov, and Derek Roy, re-signed Ryan Ellis, and hoped Filip Forsberg would continue to improve.
Last night’s win over the Vancouver Canucks had people crying foul– or crying Leafs, possibly. Nashville’s a bubble team, maybe. They’ll be fighting tooth and nail for that last wild card spot. Hopefully they’ll squeak into the playoffs.
Here’s the difference between the Predators this year and all those teams before: Nashville is currently seventh in the league in score-adjusted Fenwick, at 53.61. They’ve still got some issues, since special teams are atrocious at the moment and everyone forgot how to kill penalties over the summer, and their goaltending is a tad high. The fact that they’re second in the league at 5v5 Sv% is notable– Pekka Rinne probably won’t stay at .9544 forever. On the other hand, special teams improving could help a little bit, and Rinne is a proven top goaltender. Neal’s been scoring goals like he was brought in to do, but Forsberg has looked good as well.
Are the Predators going to regress? Of course they are. So are the Penguins, who are rocking a PDO .2 lower than the Preds, and currently have Marc-Andre Fleury posting a .945 sv% at evens too. Calgary is going to drop a lot further. Nashville probably won’t stay on top of the Central Division, let alone the Western Conference.
However. It probably isn’t ludicrous to say that they’re a playoff team, that they could get third in the division or sit very comfortably in a wild-card spot (barring injuries, of course). They’re a legitimately improved team.
Peter Laviolette has a history of this sort of thing– he brought the Hurricanes to the Cup when he was hired, the Flyers to the Cup Final. He seems to have the roster to do something this year, if not that. Maybe Nashville doesn’t make it past the first round this year, but there’s a pretty good chance they’re still playing hockey after April 11th.