Nashville Predators: Recapping a Rollercoaster February

Nashville Predators goaltender Juuse Saros (74) celebrates with right wing Viktor Arvidsson (33) and teammates after a win against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Nashville Predators goaltender Juuse Saros (74) celebrates with right wing Viktor Arvidsson (33) and teammates after a win against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports /

We’ve already reached March, and the Nashville Predators are over a third of the way through their season. It’s felt like they’ve been behind the 8-ball all season, but they’re finally starting to find some traction.

The Predators still sit under the .500 mark at 10-11-0, and are one of just three teams that haven’t lost an overtime game yet this season ( Edmonton and Minnesota).

It was a February full of rock bottom lows, but also some major excitement from certain players on the team and maybe some renewed optimism.

The Predators are 21 games through their regular season and within shouting distance of challenging for the fourth spot again. For that to become realistic, they need to continue this momentum into March and avoid another slump.

Plenty of success against one team

It’s completely fair to say that the Predators being in the position they are in is misleading. Half of their wins are against one team, the Columbus Blue Jackets. A middle-of-the-pack team that, for whatever reason, the Predators match up extremely well against.

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The Predators used three wins over Columbus to assist in closing out February with victories in four of five games. They weren’t necessarily the prettiest of wins, but it seems like the Predators are finally starting to build on something and strengthen their chemistry throughout the lineup.

As the month wore on, the Predators also got healthier. There was no discounting on hard it was to be missing Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Johansen at the same time.

Ekholm scored two goals, his first multi-goal game of his NHL career, in his first game back from a lengthy stint on the injury list. He’s provided a huge boost to the Predators as February winded down.

Johansen, on the other hand, has gradually found his way back into the lineup and started making some modest impacts. He finally registered his first point since returning to the lineup from injury by getting an assist in the most recent win over Columbus.

As we get into March, Johansen is a vital player to the Predators having success against other teams not named the Columbus Blue Jackets. We know the ability is there, but fans have rightfully grown impatient in waiting for Johansen to return to his old form.

The Predators don’t have another matchup with Columbus until May, so it’s time to find success against the rest of the Central Division.

Filbruary lives on

What a month it was for Filip Forsberg in the month known as “Filbruary”. Even though the team has mostly been horrendously inconsistent this season, Forsberg has been the constant.

Forsberg finished off February with 13 points in 13 games. He’s never quite reached a point-per-game pace in his entire NHL career, but he’s heading that way this season with 19 points in 21 games.

What’s been really impressive about Forsberg is how he’s getting others involved on his line. Eeli Tolvanen has been a huge beneficiary to Forsberg’s play, and Mikael Granlund has found a home on Forsberg’s line as well.

For all of the troubles the Predators have had, and there’s been plenty, Forsberg has had a spectacular season so far and keeping this team afloat.

The berth of the moustache is just icing on the cake. The legend lives on of the stache. And his teammates are getting in on the fun as well:

As long as the team keeps winning, those moustaches can get as gnarly as they want to get them.

Still a 50/50 split in net

Just when everyone thought Pekka Rinne had taken over as the top goaltender on the depth chart for the Nashville Predators, Juuse Saros got back-to-back starts against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Saros badly needed this two-game stretch as he continued his dominance this season over Columbus. He’s now 4-1-0 against Columbus this season with a .955 save percentage and a 1.40 GAA.

So it’s safe to say that the coaching staff saw a distinct matchup advantage to start Saros over Rinne in this series, and it really paid off for them.

As for Rinne, he’s mostly been solid in net this month. He racked up his 59th career shutout on February 23 in a win over the Detroit Red Wings. That put him in the top-20 on the NHL’s all-time list, and only trails Marc-Andre Fleury and Henrik Lundqvist among active goaltenders.

Rinne’s overall numbers last month were respectable with a 2.15 GAA and a .928 save percentage. Often times he just didn’t get the goal support in front of him to get more wins to his credit.

As we head into March, there’s really no clear-cut answer on who the primary starter is. Head Coach John Hynes might not even know that himself, and that’s fine as long as the team in front of them keeps showing improvement in key areas like penalty killing and power plays.

Nashville Predators
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Nashville Predators

Nashville Predators still haven’t proven much

Even though February had plenty of exciting moments, I’m still not convinced that this team is anything more than a fifth place team, and that’s only if everything breaks right the rest of the way.

I hope I’m wrong on that as my original preseason prediction was that the Predators would finish fourth in the division and get another playoff berth. It could still happen, but they really need to be close to perfect the rest of the way out to make that happen.

Another reason why I can’t get fully optimistic over the Predators even after winning four of five is it’s coming against mostly the same team in the Blue Jackets. It’s nice to show domination over a single team, but that’s not going to get your in the playoffs alone.

The other win in that stretch is against the Red Wings, which the Predators have woefully split with so far through four games. Those are four points you wish you could have back.

When the Predators start getting two points against teams like Carolina, Dallas and Tampa Bay, then my optimism will grow. They get a first crack at that in their next game to open March in a makeup game against the Hurricanes on Tuesday night.

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It’s really nice to see the Predators show fight and not giving up on the season despite all of the trade rumors and expectations of the team going into a rebuild.

The Nashville Predators clearly have a lot of fight in them to make things interesting, but March is a much tougher schedule to get through with four games against Florida, three games against Carolina, three games against Dallas and two games against Tampa Bay.