As Nashville continues their push towards the playoffs, a few things come to mind. How did they get here and what do they need to do to solidify there position in the Western Conference Playoffs?
How does this Predators franchise continue to be in the running for the playoffs despite seemingly overwhelming odds? In the face of the franchise being sold, the Preds were a real challenge for the Red Wings in round one of last years playoffs.
For a followup? Nashville fails to address their deficiencies on the offensive end and are now cemented in the middle of the playoff race.
Give all the credit to Predators GM David Polie for putting together a group of coachable players and give a ton of credit to Coach Barry Trotz for continuing to get the most out of his players.
So what does Nashville need to be a playoff team? First off, the upcoming stretch of games is essential. They travel on Wednesday to Anaheim to face a struggling Ducks team and then to San Jose to take on the Sharks.
Snagging two road victories against quality teams would be a huge momentum boost to the Preds before taking on the very same teams at the Sommet Center the next week.
All this said, the Preds and their fans should pay attention to the standings, but keep in mind, if the playoffs started today, the Preds would be the No. 8 seed. Therefore, to use the old tired sports cliche: "They control their own destiny."
The road will not be easy, not even remotely easy. Of their last 12 games, only the Kings and Ducks are currently outside the playoff picture. That means that the Preds need to win games against top opponents to even get in the playoffs. How about another cliche: "The playoffs begin now for this team."
What needs to happen for success in these final 12 games and on into the playoffs, should the Predators be there? The obvious answer is that the Predators need to find their offense.
They currently rank 26th in the NHL in goals for with 2.5, and 16th in Shots on Goal with 29.2. We've seen that they can score (see 8-0 victory against Detroit on Feb. 28th) when they play aggressive.
The return of Captain Jason Arnott from an upper body injury should help the offense, but players like Steve Sullivan, Martin Erat, David Legwand, and J.P. Dumont need to get on the scoreboard if the Preds are to make a run into the playoffs.
That being said, the play of Joel Ward has been extremely refreshing and could be something to watch as the season and playoffs progress.
Another thing the Preds need work on? Facing a good forecheck. I don't know how many times I've seen a team put a forecheck on these Predators only to watch them fall apart. Here again, Nashville has shown they can do it, the key is consistency, which brings me to the final piece of the playoff puzzle.
Pekka Rinne. The strength of this Predators team for as long as I can remember has been the defense and Rinne has been playing out of his mind as of late. The 6'5" Finland native has been fun to watch and looks like a budding star between the pipes. His play is the biggest key to the entire season for the Predators.
The goals scored for the Preds will fluctuate, but Rinne needs to be consistently solid if Nashville wants to have any shot at advancing into the second-round of the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
Rinne has the luxury of having another solid goalie behind him in Dan Ellis so the pressure to perform is just as high if not higher. Ellis proved in the last playoffs that he could handle the playoff load (see Game Five of the first round matchup against Detroit when Dan Ellis made 52 saves only to lose in OT).
Pekka, you are the key. Knowing how inconsistent the offense can be, you need to be darn near perfect. As a fan, I have all the faith in the world that the Preds can shock the NHL and be a force in the playoffs, but the rest of the NHL needs to see the proof.