We’ve come to expect the Nashville Predators to make the playoffs every year. Should we be more excited than we are about this team?
There’s no discounting how special it is to have a team that consistently makes the playoffs. There are much worse off franchises in all sports that can’t seem to even sniff the playoffs. The Nashville Predators obviously don’t have that problem, and we should be grateful. However, it does leave you wanting more.
The 2016-17 team that brought a magical run to the Stanley Cup Final raised the bar even higher, and now we’re still trying to reach that level of excitement again. That’s why this team leaves us feeling a little underwhelmed despite another playoff berth. The Predators handed a 1-0 shutout to the Minnesota Wild Monday night to clinch a spot. It’s a season sweep of Minnesota, a team that’s also accustomed to making the playoffs. Their chances dwindled greatly after the loss to the Predators.
We should be much more grateful for the Predators clinching a spot once again. Once you get in, there’s always a chance to catch that spark and do what they did just a couple seasons ago. The fact is it’s not easy making the playoffs in the NHL. Half the teams make it, and usually the point margins are very slim. The Predators are just 13 points ahead of a Wild team that will likely miss the playoffs. So let’s try to find some reasons to be excited about another playoff berth.
Predators have better talent than 2016-17
One of the things frustrating about this year is we know what the potential. When playing at their best, only a couple teams can match them on the ice. The problem is they have constantly underperformed, leaving me wanting to bang my head against a wall. Depth is so critical in the playoffs, and for much of the season, all of the weight has been left to the top line. That’s not to say that this can’t change quickly in Game 1 of the opening round. When the talent is there, you just hope it all comes together when it matters most.
When you look at the roster, there’s no reason to think this team should have problems with production from their depth. The one player who sticks out most for me is Kyle Turris. My patience has run thin for him to get where he needs to be for the playoffs. He has just one goal in over a month and has registered just two points over the last 12 games. If he can somehow return to the productive player he’s been for most of his career, it will help Nashville’s chances immensely at getting through the first round and beyond.
From top to bottom, this roster is built to win a Stanley Cup right now. We know what the JoFA line will bring us, and we know that the combination of Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros should be good enough to carry the Predators to a few wins on their own. It comes down to role players like Colton Sissons, Craig Smith and Calle Jarnkrok doing their part. They were all part of the Stanley Cup run and know what it’s going to take maximize this team’s potential. Newcomers like Rocco Grimaldi, Brian Boyle, Mikael Granlund, and Wayne Simmonds are what makes this team better than 2016-17. Can they translate that to results on the ice is the big question.
Expectations for the playoffs
My bar for the Predators in the playoffs is reaching the Western Conference Finals. The West is as stacked as ever with virtually the entire field being capable of getting hot at the right time and going to the Stanley Cup Final. That’s a good thing for a team like the Predators who struggled to find consistency. No one is really running away with it in the West, unlike what Tampa Bay is doing in the East. The Predators can match almost anyone’s talent on paper in the West, aside from Winnipeg.
What has me reserved about having lofty expectations for this Predators team is their inconsistency. If we get the Predators team that plays sloppy defense and can’t capitalize on the power play, we could see them handled pretty easily in the first round. Especially if it ends up being the Blues as the first-round opponent. However, the Predators are also good enough to flip a switch and go deep. You just never know what Predators team you’re going to get, and that’s the most frustrating part.
A first-round exit will be disastrous for obvious reasons. It might even prompt a look at Peter Laviolette as possibly not being the right fit for head coach anymore. A trip to the Western Conference Finals is where the Predators need to reach for this season to be a success. It would be an improvement on last season and would also reaffirm my belief that the Predators remain one of the top teams in the NHL. A fifth-straight trip to the playoffs is a testament to GM David Poile and his mastery in assembling a talented roster. Now it’s up to the players and coaches to take this team further than just the first or second round.