The Nashville Predators need to seize this opportunity that they’re in and make the most of it. Some players have more to prove than others.
If we’re fortunate enough to see playoff hockey this season, we’ll be witnessing an unprecedented and special occasion. A restart to crown a Stanley Cup champion with 24-teams in the mix, including the Nashville Predators.
The Predators are the No.6 seed in the qualifying round when the NHL announced it’s Return-To-Play plan. They will face the Arizona Coyotes in a best-of-five series.
The winner moves to the round of 16, with all teams being reseeded. It’s time for the Predators to quiet the critics.
The Predators need to come into this series with a chip on their shoulders, while showing some swagger. On paper, this team is phenomenal. They’ll have to play up to their abilities if they’re going to make some noise in the playoffs.
There’s some players who haven’t lived up to expectations this season, and those players and coaches have something to prove that will give me confidence in them for 2020-21.
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Coach John Hynes
To be honest, Coach John Hynes inherited a bit of a disaster when he took over as the Predators’ head coach on January 7.
Hynes received a sub-par defense, spotty goaltending, a hot/cold offense, and a poor power play. He got the job and then went to work.
Hynes got the Predators playing a more straightforward style of play. He put more players in front of the net on defense and started getting the whole team playing better as a collective unit.
The Predators were on a hot streak when the season pause happened, and that may or may not destroy any momentum they had built.
Hynes has to be itching to get this team back on the ice as soon as possible. He’s most certainly hoping that the momentum the team had can be recaptured.
If the Predators can make a deep run in the playoffs, it will validate the mid-season coaching change that everyone questioned. These qualifying round games could be the most important of Hynes’ career, and I suspect he will be treating them as such.
Pekka Rinne has had an up-and-down season. There is no other player on the roster that has probably benefited the most from this time off than Rinne.
GM David Poile confirmed that the starting goaltender job would be up for grabs once training camp starts. Juuse Saros had taken the starting position before the pause. Training camp will be Rinne’s opportunity to show if he still has anything left in the tank.
Although I think that Saros will probably start the first game of the qualifying round, I believe Rinne will be coveting that starting goaltender job and will be ready to take it back.
Rinne is age 37 and only has one more season left on his current contract. This has to weigh on him and factor into his thinking during this time off. The window of opportunity to get that Stanley Cup is slipping away.
Can Rinne prove that he’s still the guy in net to carry the Predators deep into the playoffs? It’ll have our full attention when training camp opens.
Ryan Johansen needs to go back in time and get a pep talk from 2015 Ryan Johansen. He has struggled this year, and he knows it. A quote from Johansen from a previously mentioned article by The Athletic’s Joe Rexrode sums it up nicely.
"“With my role on this team and the standard I hold myself to, I need to outperform No. 1 centers on a night-by-night basis. I need to show my teammates every night, ‘Hey, I’ve got this guy.’ I’ve got to be one of our horses every night. And when that’s not happening, it’s frustrating. I’ll be honest, it has chewed me up this year. ”"
I’m looking for Johansen to bust out of the gate with all cylinders firing. He has to. He is one of the leaders of this team and one of the highest-paid players.
Hopefully, Johansen has used this time off to reflect on his game and clear his mind of whatever is blocking his ability to perform at the higher level of which he is capable.
Johansen holds the keys of igniting the top line into one that’s more consistent and productive. He has to prove that he can return to old form again.
I expect Roman Josi to come into the qualifying round and make a statement. As Captain, Josi must gather the players and motivate the team to play at a top level.
Josi knows that this team is more than capable of beating anyone in the NHL. He needs to find a way to harness the fire that they had before the pause and instill that in his team.
Josi is one of the top defenders, if not the top defender, in the NHL. He knows what it takes to get locked in and push a team through the playoffs.
A lot has already been proven by Josi this season. He should win the Norris Trophy, but now he has to validate that and prove he truly is one of the top defensive stars in the game. Showing it on the postseason stage is where it really matters.
Josi has had a stellar year, and nothing would cap it off better than hanging a Stanley Cup Championship banner in Bridgestone Arena.
If this team is going to take advantage of this year’s playoff opportunity, we are going to have to see more from them than what we have seen this season, especially in this qualifying round.
This best-of-five series is short and can get away from a team quickly. One lousy game could spell disaster and send the Predators home, ending this tumultuous 2019-2020 season.