Nashville Predators: Why They Belong Among NHL's Elite

Harrison BucContributor IIJanuary 31, 2012

UNIONDALE, NY - JANUARY 16:  Shea Weber #6 of the Nashville Predators skates against the New York Islanders at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on January 16, 2012 in Uniondale, New York. The Predators defeated the Islanders 3-1.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Nashville Predators (30-16-4) look to keep impressing the hockey world after going 12-2 in their last 14 games before the All-Star break.

The red-hot Preds have been beating quality opponents during the stretch, including the Philadelphia Flyers and the Chicago Blackhawks twice.  

However, competition gets even harder as their stretch of February match-ups look brutal on paper:

2/2 @PHI  

2/4 STL  

2/7 VAN  

2/9 @OTT  

2/11 @BOS  

2/14 CHI  

2/17 @DET  

2/19 @DAL  

2/21 VAN  

2/23 STL  

2/25 SJ  

2/27 LA  

2/28 @CAR

Notice, the final five games are played in one week, but includes four straight at home.

Although a tough road lies ahead for Nashville, it seems as though they are pretty comfortable playing at home. This season, the Preds are 16-7-3 at home and are 12-2 in their last 14 home games.

The two games lost in January were to the New York Rangers and the Dallas Stars.

Playing in the toughest division in the NHL has required the Preds to start seeing themselves as an elite team in the league, and they must be able to carry that idea into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

There is no doubting that this Predators squad is young, however, there is plenty of talent which needs some time to develop. The Preds have nine players who are 24 years old or younger.

After starting the season off hot, Craig Smith has slowed down some but is always capable of fighting hard for the puck and finding the net. Plus, the Preds need to see more scoring from their forwards in the coming months, including their veterans Mike Fisher and David Legwand.

However, the Predators are second best in the league in power-play scoring, at 22%. 

Experienced defensemen Shea Weber and Ryan Suter are returning from Ottowa and the All-Star game as the Predators travel to Minnesota tonight for a 8:00 p.m. EST game against the Wild.

The Preds are looking to finish January with a record of 11-2 tonight.

But we all know that February does not get any easier.