Preseason predictions were all over the board regarding the Nashville Predators, and with a roster and front office that went through so many changes, it was understandable why.
A few staff writers for NHL.com picked the Nashville Predators to at least be one of the Western Conference wildcard teams, and even NHL.com columnist Nicholas J. Costonika picked the Predators to finish in third place in the Central Division.
Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic did his NHL team tiers and had the Nashville Predators as “Outsiders”, so in others, a non-playoff team. But also not in the much lower categories of “Bottom Feeders” and “Lottery Contenders”
NHL Team Tiers
— dom ? (@domluszczyszyn) October 5, 2023
NBC Sports Boston predicted every division race from top to bottom and put the Nashville Predators at No.6.
There were definitely plenty of hot takes out there from people predicting the Predators to be a top-three team, but the overall consensus was a middle of the pack team with the best case scenario sneaking into a wildcard spot. But almost no one had the Predators as a last place team.
The Predators and Blackhawks, who play each other on Saturday, both have 10 points but the Blackhawks have one fewer game played.
So is this just early season kinks being worked out, or are the Nashville Predators worse than any of us thought?
Nashville Predators Can’t Get Out of Their Own Way
Sitting 15 games into their 2023-24 campaign, the Predators sit in last place in the Central Division with a 5-10-0 record. You can point to several factors as to why the Predators are in the basement of the division right now.
First factor I see is a deadly combination of shaky goaltending and enormous defensive breakdowns in critical points of games. This is primarily linked to their 30th ranked penalty kill that sits at 70 percent success rate, only ahead of the New York Islanders and Minnesota Wild.
Juuse Saros hasn’t been able to be the savior in penalty kill situation, so that’s one major weakness that no one expected going into the season. If anything, most optimistic predictions in favor of the Predators was due to Saros. Hasn’t been the case, but of course there’s plenty of time to turn that narrative around.
Well, Schenn has only made it into one game, the season-opener, and McDonagh has been on the shelf for two weeks now. Hard to know how much of an impact Schenn would be making, but we know very well how vital McDonagh is to defensive structure, penalty killing and protecting the goaltender.
There’s also the telling stat from MoneyPuck that shows that the Predators are top-10 in Expected Goal Differential at +6.88. And yet, they’re losing games they should be winning, and to add insult to injury, aren’t even managing a point by getting it to overtime.
Finally, looking at the rest of the division, it’s very deep. Even the Blackhawks, who will be a measuring stick game for the point of this article, are playing better than some may have thought.
Let’s just enjoy the ride and the continued growth of players like Luke Evangelista, Juuso Parssinen and Cody Glass. #Preds might be a last place team when it’s all said and done. #Blackhawks will be interesting measuring stick in that regard.
— Chad Minton (@chad_minton) November 17, 2023
Really only the Minnesota Wild and Nashville Predators are performing under preseason expectations.
The Predators Will Rally to Pull Themselves Up in the Standings
I refuse to think a roster with plenty of proven veterans, so much young talent and a world class goaltender is destined for last place. They’re in the mud right now, as Head Coach Andrew Brunette put it after the demoralizing 3-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday to send their losing streak to four games.
The season is still in its infancy and what we think about teams now could end up being completely wrong in just a couple months. The Predators do have time to right the ship, but obviously these disturbing trends of hurting yourself and not playing the 60-minute game has to fixed.
I’m on board with giving Saros a brief rest and turning to Kevin Lankinen for a spark. If he helps propel you to a win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday, I strongly consider giving him the start again and see if he gets on a hot streak. Then you go back to Saros and hope he has worked out his issues.
The fact of the matter is Saros is letting pucks get by him that he normally stops with ease, and he’s 45th among goalies with at least five games played in High Danger Save %. For perspective, there are 16 goalies above 80 percent in high danger situations.
My belief is that Saros will improve on that high danger save percentage number and start making big time saves in crucial moments to help the Predators to some wins in the coming weeks and months. And I also have faith that Lankinen can provide the same if he can get more regular starts.
These back breaking losses the Predators are suffering are situations where they can flip the script in future games. They can start protecting their leads better, improve their puck management, and above all else, avoid the self-inflicted wounds.
The Predators are in the midst of a lot of games at home. They have to get right while there at home and stop the bleeding. All it takes is one win to get back on track and build some momentum.
It’s not time to pull the plug on this season, and I’m not ready to believe the Nashville Predators are a last place team. It would be a horrible underperformance of huge proportions if the Predators, with this roster, ultimately finished last place in the division.