The Predators have played 41 games, which means we have reached the halfway point of the regular season. It’s been quite the wild ride so far, with the Preds currently sitting atop the NHL standings. Experts thought the Predators would be an improved team. Nobody thought the Predators would have 60 points in 41 games. Let’s take a look at a few of the questions raised about the Predators before the season, and how the team has answered them so far.
How will players adjust to Peter Laviolette’s system?
Answer: They adjusted quickly and perfectly.
Peter Laviolette’s new system has fit Nashville’s talent well. Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
There was a little concern before the season started that there would be a bit of an adjustment period for players to acclimate to Laviolette’s fast-paced system, the polar opposite of former head coach Barry Trotz’s method. At the outset, the play looked awkward, and the Predators looked like they were almost adjusted. They still won games early, but it didn’t look so pretty. After a few games, it looked like very pretty hockey. Players are flying all over the ice, defensemen are circling the net and joining the rush, and the ice has been opened up. Players that were dormant under Trotz, like Colin Wilson and Filip Forsberg, have experienced an offensive explosion. Laviolette deserves strong consideration for the Jack Adams trophy this year.
How will Filip Forsberg look in his first full campaign?
Answer: He looks incredible.
Before the season, it looked as if Forsberg would get his first chance to play a full season in Nashville. It would be pretty devastating if he went cold and had to be sent back to the AHL. Right out of the gate, Forsberg looked special. The Prince of Nashville has put on quite the show thus far. He leads all rookies in points with 38, and has looked good doing it. His quick wrist shots, phenomenal dekes, and incredible speed have been missing in Nashville for quite a while. He has found great chemistry with Mike Ribeiro and James Neal on the top line. Forsberg is the frontrunner for the Calder trophy as of now, and could easily capture it come June. He has been an integral part of the Predators offense, and looks as if he’s been in the league for 4 years.
Will James Neal have to carry the team offensively?
Answer: Not at all.
James Neal has been good, but has not needed to be great so far. Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
There was real concern in preseason that Neal would be the only capable scorer on the Predators, and that he would have to carry the team with his scoring. In hindsight, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Neal currently sits sixth on the team with 23 points. He has not been terrible by any stretch, despite missing some time due to injury. But, he has not needed to be unbelievable. The Predators have found scoring from all different places. Guys like Mattias Ekholm, Eric Nystrom, Ryan Ellis, Craig Smith Colin Wilson, and Taylor Beck have stepped up and started scoring. Some nights, it’s the top unit that provides the offense. Other nights, the bottom lines find the back of the net. The Predators roll four lines deep of offensive prowess, and can find the back of the net with any player on the ice.
How will Pekka Rinne rebound from a injury filled, dismal 2013-14?
Answer: Pekka’s gonna Pekka.
The biggest difference-maker for the Preds this season has been the resurgence of Pekka Rinne. Before the season, there were concerns about his health and his performance in the middle of his seven-year deal. If he didn’t step it up, was he worth the massive contract? He has earned every penny of his deal so far. He leads the league in wins, as well as SV%. Rinne has made some incredible saves reminiscent of his 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons. Best of all: he has stayed healthy. He has not had to fight off the injury bug thus far, and barring some catastrophic injury (*knock on wood* he doesn’t face one), he should win the Vezina Trophy by a landslide. Even in bad games offensively, Rinne gives the team a chance to win. Night in and night out, if Rinne is in net, the Predators can win.