A month-long surge by the Nashville Predators has them eyeing down a division title, but are the preseason expectations still the same?
The Nashville Predators are now 34 games into the 207-18 regular season. A very successful month of November has them in a three-way tie for 1st place in the division. Any reasonable fan would have taken that back over the summer.
However, seasons are full of ups and down. There will inevitably be some rough patches over the remainder of the regular season. The Predators are in the midst of a division battle that will be both fun and unsettling to watch.
Heading into the season, an expectation of another Stanley Cup run was understandable. Even with the losses of some key players, the Predators did a great job of replacing those losses to the roster, like the addition of Kyle Turris. Being without a top defenseman in Ryan Ellis hasn’t caused the Predators to fade. Ellis is expected back in early January, per Thomas Willis of the Predators official website:
With the Predators well on pace to surpass 100 points, let’s reassess how they’re living up to preseason expectations.
Making the Playoffs
Obviously, the first goal is to secure a playoff berth. The Predators are no strangers to making the playoffs, and falling short of that initial goal will be shocking. The talent and makeup of this team suggest that fans have nothing to worry about. To play devil’s advocate, the Predators are just seven points ahead of the last wildcard team. That’s a slim margin, even after the Predators are 16-5-2 since entering November.
Looking back last year, the Predators are in much better shape right now. If they can keep this pace, we won’t have to sweat out the last week of the season. With that said, the expectations should be higher than just sliding through the back door of the playoffs.
The Predators have dropped two in a row, which hasn’t happened since back-to-back losses on October 28th and November 1st. Avoiding the drawn out losing streaks is important to ensuring the Predators avoid a disaster of missing the playoffs.
Winning the Division
Hard to fathom that the Predators have never won a division title. Whenever I hear that stat, I have to remind myself it’s actually true. Division titles don’t win Stanley Cups, but they make it a lot easier.
You can make an argument for every division team, aside from the Avalanche, of finishing on top. The division is more stacked than I can ever remember it. The kind of success the Predators had in November is what they have to repeat each month for the remainder of the season. The slow starts have to stop if the Predators are going to keep pace and win the Central.
Previewing the season back in August, the Blues were my biggest obstacle to winning the division. I didn’t expect the Jets to join the party, and the Blackhawks and Stars aren’t going away. Buckle up for a crazy race to the end for this division. The Predators are sitting in a crowded place, but they are sharing the top for now.
Winning the Stanley Cup
No one saw the Predators making the Stanley Cup last season. Even the most passionate fans would mostly be lying to you if they said they expected that. After what they pulled off, more people have jumped on the bandwagon. More national recognition has come the way of the Predators. Can they repeat as champions of the Western Conference and close the deal? They absolutely have the personnel and the coach to do so.
The Predators aren’t playing the Cinderella role this year. A target is on their back. We need to forget about the Predators finally winning a division title. It’s easy to get swept up in the standings, but making the playoff field is not a done deal. Not because the Predators are a bad team, but because good teams get left out every year.
The onslaught of penalties has to stop. It negates the offensive talent they have when they’re constantly shorthanded, even though they’re good at it. This is the biggest area of concern:
There’s nothing wrong with keeping the highest expectation of hoisting a Stanley Cup this season. Yes, the team is in the first place, but they’re not playing up to their potential. Things can unravel quickly if they continue to underperform. Securing a playoff spot and home-ice advantage remains likely. I need to see better starts and more discipline before I expect a return trip to the Stanley Cup.