The Nashville Predators are gradually showing signs of improvement and finally getting some wins. They’re doing it without two top-six forwards.
Like a wounded animal that can still hurt you, the Nashville Predators have to enter every game with that mentality. There’s no more room to slip up like they did in November.
After a rough month of November, the Nashville Predators now have to essentially win two out of every three at a minimum from here on out. They can’t afford another six-game losing streak,and really need to build a long winning streak soon.
The Predators are playing much better hockey and seem to have gotten whatever it was out of their system that made them look so bad for multiple weeks in a row. Even though they’re looking better, they’re having trouble making up much ground in the Central Division.
The rest of the Central Division, outside of the Chicago Blackhawks, are also playing some good hockey as of late. With that, the Predators are only ahead of the the Blackhawks in the division, but they’re also just three points behind the Vancouver Canucks for the final wildcard spot.
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Why your panic meter should still be low
Simply put, there’s still so many games left to work this thing out. The Predators have played just 28 games this season, while every other team in the Western Conference besides Colorado has played at least 30 games. Some have even played up to 32 games.
So not all things are even right now in terms of games played and points possible. The Predators are showing improvement in some key areas on both defense and offense, but they also have room to get much better as well.
It’s my strong belief that the Predators have a lengthy winning streak coming their way soon once they get back to full strength. They need Viktor Arvidsson and Mikael Granlund back first. Granlund should be back possibly for the next game as he has returned to practice:
The offense has been clicking in a big way in the majority of their games since snapping their six-game losing streak back on November 23rd. They’ve had some lapses, like their shutout loss against Florida, but overall they’re getting much better. They just erupted in their last game with six goals in a win over the New Jersey Devils.
I’m loving what I’ve seen from the third line, especially from Nick Bonino at center. This line in a lot of ways is carrying the offense. Now we just have to wait for the top two lines to follow suit and play up to their rockstar potentials, which I have a strong belief that they will.
This team generates a lot of shots on goal and routinely puts a lot of pressure on opposing defenses in transition. Once Arvidsson returns, hopefully by the end of this month, they’ll really unlock their full potential again on offense.
I’m not panicking yet because I understand how much of a grind the hockey season is. It’s hard to go through an entire 82-game schedule and look perfect through its entirety. The issues that the Predators have they appear to be working out.
Where they need to improve
Even though my panic meter remains pretty low, they do have some key areas that need to improve as the playoff chase will start heating up in the next few months. First off, special teams has been pretty horrendous.
The Predators were dead last in power play percentage last season, and haven’t improved much this season being currently ranked at 25th. Their percentage rate is somewhat better at 15.5 percent over the dismal 12.9 that it was last season.
The power play may be showing mild improvement, but it’s not enough. Not with the overhaul that supposedly happened with assistant coach Dan Lambert. They also added Matt Duchene to boost the power play, but he has just five power play points so far.
When I look at the first power play unit for the Predators, it’s hard to understand why they’re continuing to struggle in this department. Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, Roman Josi and Duchene shouldn’t be among the worst power play units in the NHL.
I have to believe that this unit is going to start clicking and become a more reliable weapon for this offense. The Predators have no problems drawing penalties as they’re 7th in the league in power play opportunities with 103. Now they have to start converting more often.
Then there’s the penalty kill, which is 27th right now. This is a weakness I didn’t see coming. The Predators have always been a solid penalty killing team that plays physical and can lean on not being exposed when killing off penalties. Not the case this year.
It’s simple to me why the Predators are probably so bad in this department. Some shaky and inconsistent goaltending at times, some bad puck luck and a defense that has been working out the kinks. This is another area that has to show improvement if the Predators are going to make a surge in December and beyond.
Finally, we just need more reliable goaltending from Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros. They’ve both been very streaky this season. They’ll put up gems that make the Predators look like an elite team, and then follow that up with duds. The problem is there’s been more duds than gems.
Saros and Rinne have very similar numbers, and they’re not exactly what I would call pristine. They both have sub-90 save percentages, goals against averages hovering around three goals per game and have nearly split the starts with Rinne having three more starts.. It’s not all on them, but they have to get more consistent.
I’m not jumping off any cliff or losing sleep over where this team stands. As bad as its been, they’re still firmly in the playoff race and are solid winning streak away from surging back up. It’s a long season and the Predators just have to keep improving, which I believe they are.
My red line for me when I’ll really start worrying begins after the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day. If this team is still hovering near last place in the division and not improving in the areas I mentioned previously, then I’ll start thinking coaching changes and throwing in the towel.
Until that time comes, I still have faith that this talented roster will figure things out. This roster is full of veterans who know what needs to be done. Some better fortune is going to hit this team, and I do think the best line combinations are starting to become more clear, which is critical moving forward.