Is it fair to say that the Nashville Predators have performed above expectations here at the midway point of 2023-24, or is there still a lot more to be desired?
After their home matchup with the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday, the Predators will be halfway through the regular season and even with a loss, they'll be in the top wildcard spot of the Western Conference.
The Predators will be one of six Western Conference teams officially at the midway point with 41 games played following Tuesday's action. With a win over the Ducks, the Predators could stretch their wildcard lead out to six points and pull to just four points back of the third-place Dallas Stars.
Let's crunch some numbers and see how the Predators have gotten to a record of 22-17-1. Last season, before the looming trade deadline sell off just a couple months later, the Predators were 19-16-6 for 44 points at the halfway point.
Filip Forsberg is Becoming Elite Right Before Our Very Eyes
I mean, what else can you really say about Filip Forsberg's game right now? He's doing what superstars are supposed to do. Carry their team when needed in clutch moments, but also making his teammates around him better with 24 assists, just 18 shy of his career high.
Forsberg completely took over the third period in the most recent game for the Predators, a 4-3 win over the Stars on the road. Entering the the final frame the score was tied at 2-2 after the Stars got the equalizer in the final minute of the second period.
Like elite players do, it was Forsberg's time to take over. He scored two goals to restore the multi-goal lead for the Predators, giving him his fifth game-winning goal of the seasona and 48th of his NHL career.
Forsberg just got named to his second NHL All-Star game appearance and sits in the top-20 in points and goals, and top-10 in shots on goal.
For the Predators' all-time record books, Forsberg is coming up on David Legwand for 2nd in franchise history for points, He sits just 10 points behind Legwand at 556, with Roman Josi being at the top with 632 points.
Preds Still Not Delivering on their Scoring Chances Like They Should Be
This trend has stuck around through the first half of the season; the Predators are great at creating offensive chances, sitting in the top half of the NHL in Expected Goals % and Expected Goals For, but fall back to 17th in goals per game.
This is a correctable problem to have and one you can find a solution for by just continuing to do the right things that Brunette is preaching. The pucks will start finding the back of the net if you stay consistent.
It would be much more troubling if the Predators were scoring a lot of goals, but they were coming in a more fluky variety. The analytics say otherwise, and if anything, they should be scoring much more goals than they have.
Depth scoring has been hit or miss, and the youngsters have been called upon to step up their games. Luke Evangelista rectified that against Dallas with a massive goal to make it 2-0 early on, and Philip Tomasino's aggressive skating lately will continue to lead to good things for the bottom six.
Need more offensive contributions from Juuso Parssinen, Yakov Trenin, Cody Glass and Kiefer Sherwood. These four have plenty of offensive upside, but have only combined for 31 points.
If you can find a spark from any of these four, and my money is on Parssinen kicking it into another gear as the season wears on, then that will help fix those underperforming goal totals for the Predators.
Goaltending & Defense has to be More Reliable
The Predators have what it takes to be a top-3 team in the division when they're playing at their top level like we've seen in sporadic waves. The problem is, they drop off just as fast and give us a couple snoozers, like they did in the 6-3 loss to Calgary before posting one of their best games of the season in the win over Dallas.
These two go hand in hand; defensive breakdowns and the inability for Nashville goaltenders to cover up for those defensive mistakes. Look, mistakes are you going to happen occasionally in the defensive zone, and sometimes you need your goaltender to rise up and make a big time save.
Juuse Saros is far too often the punching bag for the fanbase when things go sour, and it shouldn't always be that way. Many times I've seen Saros hang on as long as he can, and then eventually the dam breaks and just like that, Saros is roasted for a barrage of goals.
It starts with better communication and stucture defensively. You can't be getting beat up ice as a defenseman. It's happened to Roman Josi all the way down to Alexandre Carrier and Jeremy Lauzon.
Here's an alarming stat for you that the Predators need to fix quickly; this team is among the worst offenders in giveaways, having the second-most total giveaways and fourth-most giveaways per 60 minutes at 9.19. You're living dangerously that way, and often times putting your goaltender in precarious situation.
Furthermore, the Predators rank in the bottom half in blocks per 60, so that's a number you'd like to see improved and will in return really help Saros.
Now, it's still ultimately Saros' job to stop the pucks from getting in and he simply hasn't been quite as elite in those situations as you'd like. He has been ordinary, with the occasional highlight reel save. Plenty of time for him to get back on a heather and make the Predators a two-pronged attack.
Evangelista is Top-10 in Rookie Points
Luke Evangelista has become a consistent offensive contributor for the Predators, and only continues to improve as the season wears on. He is tied with Connor Zary of the Flames in rookie points with 19.
Connor Bedard, to no one's surprise, is the frontrunner with 33 points, but then the rookie list gets pretty jumbled up. Evangelista is right there among the NHL's best rookies at the midway point.
Evangelista is also getting significantly less ice time than four of the five rookies ahead of him. He has only missed one game for the Predators through the first half, and that was a healthy scratch.
With the recent call up of Denis Gurianov, the Predators forward lines have been shuffled up a bit which has moved Evangelista out of the top-six and into a third line role with Tommy Novak centering.
Preds Need to Show Improvement on Special Teams
First off with the power play, it's very hit or miss right now. There are games it looks unstoppable, and other games when it can't get going. The passing and timing is usually just a tick off for this to happen.
The Predators are 16th in power play percentage, which is underwhelming considering we've seen flashes or greatness in this area. This is Andrew Brunette's wheelhouse, but 16th isn't anything to be jumping up and down about.
Ryan O'Reilly is tied for third in NHL in power play goals with 10. He has 17 points on the power play, while Forsberg has 15.
After O'Reilly and Forsberg, the power play production gets thin for the Predators. Roman Josi has 15 power play points at the quarterback of the top unit, and then you have Novak with four power play goals.
You're wanting to see more success from the Predators' second power play unit. This is where Parssinen, Evangelista and Tomasino need to really show improvement in the second half.
Parssinen has two goals on the power play, while Evangelista and Tomasino have yet to score on the power play.
Preds Have Been Average at Home, Better on the Road, Done Well vs. Central Division Opponents
You don't expect to see this, but the Predators have faired slightly better on the road than at home. They've played four more games at home than on the road with a record of 12-10-0. On the road the Predators have a 10-7-1 record, with their most impressive road victory easily being their most recent win over the Dallas Stars.
The Predators have beaten every team in the division at least once with the exception of Minnesota and Arizona, who they each have one loss against.
Against the top three teams in the Central Division (Colorado, Winnipeg, Dallas) the Predators have gone 3-2-0. They've also won all three matchups with the Chicago Blackhawks to bring their overall head-to-head record against division opponents to 7-4-0.
The Predators have three games against division opponents in January, all being on the road at Dallas, Arizona and Minnesota.