Nashville Predators: Predators Heating Up Central Division

ST. LOUIS, MO - DECEMBER 27: Predators players celebrate after winning a NHL game between the Nashville Predators and the St. Louis Blues on December 27, 2017, at Scottrade Center, St. Louis, MO. Nashville won, 2-1. (Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - DECEMBER 27: Predators players celebrate after winning a NHL game between the Nashville Predators and the St. Louis Blues on December 27, 2017, at Scottrade Center, St. Louis, MO. Nashville won, 2-1. (Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

So far this season, the Nashville Predators have dominated the Central Division and currently hold the top spot. So what does that mean for their playoff hopes?

The Nashville Predators have never won a Central Division title. Never. Before the divisional realignment occurred in 2013, the Predators finished in second place three seasons in a row (2005-2008). Since the realignment, they have finished in second place once (2014/15). But they don’t give you a banner for divisional runner-up.

So far this season, Nashville has gone 9-2-2 against Central Division opponents. In 13 games, they have played each team at least once. In that span, they have gone undefeated against St. Louis and Colorado and have only one team, Minnesota, they have yet to beat.

Coming up, Nashville has two back to back contests against Minnesota (Dec. 29 & 30) before they ring in the new year. As they enter the year they will (hopefully) take home Lord Stanley’s Cup, what will they have to do to ensure their first divisional title and a top seed in the playoffs?

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Establish Consistency

Injuries are certainly a part in every team’s yearly journey, but how they respond to those injuries defines them. Nashville has suffered its fair share already this season. Ryan Johansen, Scott Hartnell, and Yannick Weber all spent some time out of the line up. Additionally, Ryan Ellis has yet to play coming off knee surgery during the off-season. Luckily for Nashville, they are almost back to full strength.

Ryan Ellis will likely make his season debut sometime in the first couple weeks of January. Barring any additional injuries before that date, the Nashville Predators will have a full line up. That being the case, the biggest challenge can be taken on: establish consistency.

No longer will injury be an excuse for inconsistent play. Head Coach Peter Laviolette will need to get his team playing in a consistent fashion in order to secure a top spot in April. That does not necessarily mean winning every game. However, it does entail playing at the same level every night. Some teams will rise to that and beat the Predators, but it will not be because they took a night off. The teams that have won championships (i.e. Pittsburgh and Chicago) played at a consistent level January through April. The Predators must find that consistency in 2018.

Survive The West Coast

January will bring six straight match ups against Pacific Division teams and the Nashville Predators need to get by on top. Despite those six games taking place out of the division, Western conference games matter. When determining seeding of divisional champions, giving the possible leaders of the Pacific another loss can make a difference.

Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Edmonton highlight the Pacific swing. Nashville will take their first ever trip to Las Vegas on January 2 and will host the Knights on January 16. What was thought to be a soft, expansion team has morphed into a legitimate playoff threat. They hold a two point lead over L.A. for the Pacific division lead and have only lost in regulation nine times (as have Nashville).  Edmonton, despite a tough season thus far, looks to be on a rebound. Their speed will test Nashville.

Los Angeles has rebounded this season after a disappointing 2016-17. They sit in fifth in points league wide. In fact, Nashville will play four of the top five teams in the league in January (Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Tampa Bay and New Jersey; Nashville is a top five team itself, ranked third among that group).

Getting out of its Pacific Division battles with a winning record will be an important playoff booster and will help holding the divisional lead.

Dominate March

March will be the busiest month for the Nashville Predators from a divisional standpoint. They are scheduled to play seven games within the division, three at home and four away. Opponents include Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota and Winnipeg.

Of the seven, games against Winnipeg and Dallas might mean the most. The Predators face Winnipeg twice (March 13 & 25) and will go up against a team closely trailing them. Dallas comes to Nashville on March 6 and will hope to follow-up their last contest which saw Dallas win in a shootout.

The Nashville Predators must dominate the month of March in order to win the division. St. Louis and Winnipeg will be pushing for the lead and any divisional slip ups could be devastating. Nashville must take the lessons learned during the 2014-15 season where it finished five points behind first place and lost its last three at the end of the season.

Next: Five thoughts for Friday December 29

Discipline and hard work will define the Predators over the next three and a half months. Consistency, strong play outside of the division and domination within the divisional play will set them up for playoff success.