Nashville Predators: Modest Improvement Being Shown Each Game

Nashville Predators forward Matt Duchene (95) celebrates with forward Ryan Johansen (92) following the game against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Nashville Predators forward Matt Duchene (95) celebrates with forward Ryan Johansen (92) following the game against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports /

After opening up the season 1-4-0, the Nashville Predators have won their last two games as they’re getting a three-day break before a difficult matchup with the New York Islanders on Saturday.

There’s been a lot of talk from Head Coach John Hynes and his players that the team has found its identity, but what does that mean exactly? You can be the judge of that as you watch the games, but at least they have one.

Here’s what Hynes told the press after the 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks, which may have come off as boring to watch to the casual hockey fan:

Don’t look now, but now has the Nashville Predators’ playoff odds at 57.8 percent, which is just below the Dallas Stars and surprisingly ahead of the Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild. Interesting.

Nashville Predators have a clear identity, but is it good enough to win consistently?

The Nashville Predators have been very consistent in how they want to play through the first seven games, which is hard hitting, aggressive forechecking and strong penalty killing. They’ve successfully killed off 19 of their last 21 opponent power plays.

On most nights they’re not going to dazzle the fans with flashy goal scoring, although they do have a few players who can do that as well as we saw a lot of in the win over the Minnesota Wild.

“We knew that it was going to be important for us to be strong around our netfront, and I think even when they made some pushes, I thought we did a good job boxing out” -HEAD COACH JOHN HYNES ON WIN OVER SAN JOSE

Tuesday night’s win over the San Jose Sharks was the perfect example of playing the way the Predators want to play. Protecting the front of the net to clear out rebounds, blocking shots and making life easier on Juuse Saros.

The blueprint of the Predators winning a lot of games this year will be playing like they did against the Sharks and the Wild. They were right there in the mix for at least a point in the losses to Seattle, Carolina and the New York Rangers.

Playing with an early lead in the latest wins did wonders for a team that’s still offensively challenged and isn’t a team that’s going to make big comebacks very regularly.

However, the Predators do have an even goal differential through seven games, showing that every game has been close enough to win. That’s progress for a team that some people expected to finish down at the bottom of the division with the Coyotes.

Steady improvement, but still a lot to learn about this team

No one should really be that surprised by how the Predators are playing early on. The Predators have kept the score close down to the end in three of their four losses. Now they have to get better at finishing these games that have ended in losses and no points in the standings.

Another key reason the Predators showing progress through each game, even in the losses, is their top core is finally taking charge. Their top-five current point scorers (Roman Josi, Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, Mikael Granlund, Matt Duchene) all are veteran leaders on this team.

Josi is leading all NHL defensemen in points with nine, and the Predators have 12 players with at least three points.

The sign of a good team is that it plays to its collective strengths and thrives in those areas. The Predators have been doing that more consistently as of late, but it’s going to take time for these line combinations to really start gelling and minimizing those critical defensive mistakes. They seem to be gradually getting to that.

It’s much better to be showing steady improvement at the beginning of the season than it is waiting until it’s too late to show any progress. At least they’re appearing to know exactly how they need to play to be successful.

More. Catching You Up on Some Top Predators Prospects This Season. light

My expectations for this team remain unchanged through seven games. Tempered expectations with another playoff berth possible only if they get top production from their veteran core (success so far) and better special teams play (showing improvement).

The Islanders will be another stiff test for the Predators on Saturday, which will already be their sixth home game to open the season. It’s going to take another stellar defensive performance as the Islanders are riding back-to-back shutouts.