Somehow the Nashville Predators managed to keep their heads above water and give themselves this unique opportunity with 23 others teams.
So the Nashville Predators have a chance to help us forget about the rocky regular season that saw the team nearly hit rock bottom, but stopped the leaking long enough to sneak into the NHL’s Return to Play plan that includes 23 other “playoff” teams.
It seems like a year ago since the Nashville Predators last played a game, which was a win over the Montreal Canadiens on March 10. It marked six wins over their last nine games, with impressive back-to-back wins over the Dallas Stars.
With the first game against the Arizona Coyotes just over two weeks away, it makes sense to look back on a wild 2019-20 season that ended prematurely, and makes you wonder if the Nashville Predators would’ve had what it took to sneak into the playoffs under normal circumstances.
Hot start, then a tailspin
Approaching nine months ago now the Predators embarked on their 2019-20 campaign. It got off to flashy start that had many already gushing over them as a Stanley Cup contender. They had wins over Washington, Vegas and Tampa Bay and Pekka Rinne was looking like a Vezina Trophy winner again.
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Then the bottom just completely fell out. Rinne regressed big time, the defense was atrocious and head coach Peter Laviolette was appearing to lose control over the team.
There just wasn’t any fire in the overall team, aside from a few leaders, and that spilled over onto the ice. The hype train to fire Laviolette was loud and clear as the Predators continued to crash further back into the standings.
Before things got too out of control, the team managed to show some mild improvement in December. Not enough to erase a horrendous November, but enough to restore a little hope among the most optimistic of fans.
A coaching change, that shocked some, came and there was that proverbial fork in the road.
John Hynes comes in
A midseason coaching change is always tricky to maneuver around. I’m normally only for this drastic move if the season is already lost, which it wasn’t for the Predators just yet in early January.
The Predators started residing on that playoff bubble, with every disappointing loss amplified. But the team did managed to rack up some more impressive wins over playoff teams like Winnipeg, Washington, St. Louis and the New York Islanders.
Momentum was being built before the pause happened, and most notably due to Saros’ strong play in net. He carried the team in many ways down the stretch.
The Predators had 13 games remaining before the regular season was deemed complete and the NHL decides to start directly in a 24-team playoff format. I’m fairly confident the Predators would’ve held onto a playoff spot if the season was completed, and that they may have even caught Dallas in the division standings.
Furthermore, you have a core group of players who in particular kept the Predators afloat with their consistency and strong leadership. No one more so than Roman Josi, but credit is also strongly owed to Nick Bonino, Craig Smith, Rocco Grimaldi and players like Colin Blackwell who were called up and made the most of their opportunities.
Either way, here were are now with the return of hockey games just weeks away. No one can pretend to know exactly what’s going to happen in this unprecedented playoff scenario, but the Predators do have the talent on the roster to make things interesting.
Which Nashville Predators team are we going to get against Arizona? It already looks like they’re turning back to old times and what used to work with the JoFA line, per the George Plaster Show:
The reuniting of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson on the same line is an exciting development that’s coming out of training camp.
There’s no room for error with a best-of-five series, so let’s hope it’s the October version of the Nashville Predators that was putting up flashy offense and had a vintage Pekka Rinne or a Juuse Saros that was heating up down the stretch.
Thoughts of a deep playoff run shouldn’t be thrown away if the October version of the Nashville Predators shows up right out of the gate.