With the season approaching, the time is right for making predictions. Most media outlets have the odds against the Preds making it back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season; and Vegas agrees. The Preds made a number of offseason additions, but will it be enough to get back in the hunt for the Holy Grail?
In order to qualify for the playoffs, the Preds will need to earn about 90 points over the course of the 82-game season. In order for Nashville to hit that benchmark, they need to do the following:
1. Score more goals. Last season the Preds averaged 2.27 goals-per-game, good for a tie for last in the NHL. This was a far cry from the 2011-12 season where Nashville was tied for eighth in goals-per-game. While losing Martin Erat’s production hurts, Matt Cullen and Viktor Stalberg (this won’t help) should be able to fill that void. Plus, with another season of development complete and better health, Colin Wilson and Patric Hornqvist will contribute as well.
2. Improve the Power Play. The power play concluded 2011-12 at a franchise record rate of 21.6% but faltered during the lockout-shortened season. The offensive additions mentioned above, coupled with Seth Jones on the point, should provide for a more dynamic power play unit that improves upon the 17.1% success rate from last season.
3. Pekka Rinne is more like Pekka Rinne. Statistically speaking, last season was the worst season of Rinne’s career as an NHL starter. However, his .910 save percentage and 2.43 gaa were still nothing to sneeze at. If Rinne can move back towards his career averages and steal the occasional game, it will have the Preds in the thick of the play-off picture.
4. Be better in the defensive zone. Nashville gave up way too many second-chance opportunities last season. While Nashville still has the reputation as a defense-first team, the loss of Ryan Suter was noticeable in the defensive end. Roman Josi will continue to be asked to fill that void and the experience he gained last year should help him to better shoulder that load. The addition of the 6’4” Jones and potential for 6’4” Mattias Ekholm to crack the opening day lineup should give Nashville good size to compliment smooth skating on the back-end. The big question here is how the minutes will be distributed among an inexperienced unit and how the rookies will react.
The realignment should also help the Predators. Trading games against Detroit for more games against Winnipeg and Colorado (if offside works) should add a couple of points. Look for the Preds to grind their way back into the Playoffs and clinch a berth on one of the Season’s last days.