David Poile’s press conference today was a welcome return to business for fans of the Nashville Predators, who are eager to get back to hockey after enduring a bitter NHL lockout. Poile was the general manager of the Washington Capitals at the time of the last lockout-shortened NHL season, and he said during the presser that he remembered how exciting the season was: Peter Bondra scored 34 goals in 47 games for the Caps as they squeaked into the playoffs before losing in seven games to Pittsburgh in the conference quarterfinals. “It was really exciting,” Poile said. “Every game was a playoff game. I think the coaches and players realize that, and I think the fans will see that.”
If every game is like a playoff game, the intensity will be tremendous here in Nashville. Bridgestone Arena is already a very loud building when everybody gets fired up. It’s especially chaotic during the playoffs when every single play carries more weight. Over the years even national and visiting media have come to recognize that Bridgestone is a special place, especially during the playoffs. In that regard, an “all-playoffs-all-the-time” atmosphere would be a great thing for Nashville.
But there’s at least one aspect where Predators fans should hope the team plays more like it’s the regular season: winning.
Since 2003-04, the year the team first made the playoffs, Nashville has compiled a record of 358 wins, 225 losses, and 73 ties and overtime losses. Including the overtime points that translates to a winning percentage of .601; even if you’re only concerned with outright wins, Nashville has still compiled a .545 winning percentage during that time. They’ve been one of the most consistently successful teams in the league over the last decade of regular-season play, and that’s a big part of why their popularity has grown here in middle Tennessee.
Contrast that with the Preds’ record in the playoffs and you find yourself looking at a very different team. Since its first playoff appearance against the Detroit Red Wings in 2003-04, Nashville’s franchise has gone 19-31 in the second season. That’s an overall winning percentage of .316, which pales in comparison to the team’s regular-season record and goes a long way to explaining why there are no Western Conference championship banners in the rafters at Bridgestone. The trend in the last two years has been upward thanks to series wins against Anaheim and Detroit, but even during that stretch the team has only played .500 hockey.
Related to the team’s overall record are some of its top players’ playoff point numbers. Almost without fail, Nashville’s current top players have seen their production drop after the regular season. Martin Erat (.669 p/g regular-season, .500 in 46 playoff games), Patric Hornqvist (.566 p/g vs .333 in 24 playoff games), Mike Fisher (.531 p/g vs .402 in 97 playoff games), Shea Weber (.547 p/g vs .465 in 43 playoff games), and Sergei Kostitsyn (.524 p/g vs .375 in 40 playoff games) have all seen their production fall off significantly in the playoffs.
Even wonder-goalie Pekka Rinne sees a small drop in his performances, from a 2.35 GAA and .921 save percentage to playoff marks of 2.41/.916. The only significant exception to the team trend is David Legwand. A .592 points/game scorer in 846 regular-season games, his average in 47 career playoff games is just slightly better at .595. Of all the team’s veteran players, he’s the only one that equals his regular-season performances when it’s time to play for the Stanley Cup.
So other than the atmospherics, I hope the 2013 Nashville Predators forget about treating every game like it’s the playoffs. History says they’d be better off just going about the same business they always do during the regular season. And when the playoffs arrive, hopefully the team will treat them like the regular season, too. It certainly couldn’t hurt.