The Nashville Predators will be one of 14 teams seeking to reverse their fortunes next season after finishing three points short of the playoffs this year.
The club displayed improvement over the 2012-2013 campaign that saw them finish next to last in the Western Conference, but a few key mistakes in the Predators game caused their ultimate downfall again this season. Last month, Nashville general manager David Poile said he considers a postseason birth to be the minimum standard of success for the Predators, so earning a playoff birth for the first time in three years will be the ultimate goal next spring.
Five things the Predators need to improve on next season:
Late-minute mistakes: One of the youngest clubs in the NHL, the Predators lack of experience (especially on the blue line), cost them in several games this season. In one 12-day span, the club gave up a goal in the final minute of four different periods and lost three of those four games. That particular week, former Nashville bench boss Barry Trotz commented on the issue: “You can’t panic, and that’s something you just have to learn with experience. You can’t really practice it. It’s an area of game management that this team really needs to learn.” Nashville will need their green blue line (an average age of under 24) to play more like NHL veterans in the tough moments this coming season.
Shootout: There was an NHL team this past season that didn’t win a single game in a shootout; and despite what it felt like at times, that team was not the Nashville Predators. It was actually the New Jersey Devils. The Predators 2-9 record in the skills competition doesn’t leave them with much to brag about, however. Poile bemoaned his club’s shortcomings in the shootout many times this campaign and for a team that finished just three points out of the playoffs, the complaint makes sense. Forwards Craig Smith and Calle Jarnkrok showed some flashes of skill in the shootout this year and those will need to increase next campaign in order to rise from the 29th slot.
Penalty Kill: Traditionally a source of pride for the Predators, the team faltered while shorthanded this season. Nashville finished in the bottom portion of the NHL’s penalty kill rankings, sitting at 25th with a 80.3 percent success rate. The last two seasons the club made the postseason (2010-11 and 2011-12), they ranked in the top ten on the penalty kill. The Predators will lean on a healthy Pekka Rinne to stabilize their numbers while a man (or more) short in 2014-2015.
Central Division: The Predators play in one of the toughest division in the NHL. Five of the seven squads in the Central made the playoffs this season and Nashville’s record against some of their divisional rivals cost them in the long run. The Minnesota Wild and the Dallas Stars, a pair of teams in the Predators division, took the two West wild card slots thanks in part to going a combined 7-4 against Nashville. Currently the measuring stick for Nashville, the Stars and Wild each play similar styles to the club from Music City and new Predators coach Peter Laviolette will have to find a way to steal a few more points and pass them in the standings.
Scoring: After Laviolette was hired as the second coach in franchise history last week, Poile and forward Matt Cullen commented that the coach’s offensive style of play is just what the Predators need going forward. Six out of the last eight full seasons Laviolette has been behind the bench, his team has finished in the top 10 in scoring. That’s something Nashville hasn’t done in either of the pair of seasons they’ve missed the playoffs. Probably the weakness that national media point to the most when discussing the Predators, a new perspective on offense might be just what the Predators need to take the next step in the standings.