At the end of last season, the Nashville Predators were the only team in the Central on the outside looking in at the playoffs. While their top scorer only accumulated 65 points on the season, the Preds were just edged out of a playoff spot. Unfortunately this season they will be taking a step back.
The Preds were very up-and-down last season. At some points, you could tell how young they were, and at other times they looked unbeatable. They lost top goal scorer Jason Arnott for a stretch last year and like their competition to the north fought hard to stay in the playoff hunt.
Jason Arnott led the Predators with 33 goals last season and the next closest was defensemen Shea Weber with 23. JP Dumont lead the team with 65 points (16 goals and 49 assists).
A surprise in net last year was Pekka Rinne, who posted a 2.38 GAA and collected seven shutouts. If not for the stellar play of Steve Mason in Columbus, Rinne probably would have been in the running for Rookie of the Year.
Like most of the teams in the Central, the Predators were very quite in the offseason. Forwards Ben Eaves, Marcel Goc, and Ben Guite were brought in to help bridge the gap to the youngsters, while hopefully adding a scoring touch the Preds lacked last year.
Veteran defensive-men Greg De Vries, Greg Zanon and Ville Koistinen all left via free agency leaving the blue line corp very young. Nashville does sport two of the top defensive-men in the league in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, but there is a severe drop off after that.
After a superb rookie season, Pekka Rinne was officially anointed the starter with veteran Dan Ellis sliding into the role Chris Mason held two years earlier when Ellis was the hotshot goalie of the future.
October 17th through the 28th, Nashville will go out on their longest road trip of five games. The trip will take them to the Northeast and they will face the likes of the Capitals, Bruins, and the Senators before heading to Chicago and Minnesota for key early games in the West.
Still early in the season, the Predators will enjoy a five game home-stand from November 14th through the 23rd. This could make or break this season as some top teams in the league visit. The Sharks, Devils, Blue Jackets, and Red Wings all visit, and it will be interesting to see how this young team holds up.
Leading up to the Olympic break, Nashville takes a four-game swing up to the Northeast yet again. On this trip they will get a look at potential new star John Tavares, Marian Gaborik in a Ranger uniform (hopefully), their first look at the Devils new digs, and a matchup with the defending champs.
Finally, in what could be playoff position battles, the Predators will host the St. Louis Blues twice in the final four games. These games are huge, especially if there is a spot on the line.
Players to Watch:
Pekka Rinne- This is the number one guy to watch this year. If Rinne has another good season, the Preds could very well find themselves in the playoffs. This team will not score much; and if Rinne can keep the puck out, it's obvious they can win a bunch of games.
Antti Pihlstrom- While only scoring two goals in 53 games last season, Pihlstrom did show flashes of what he could be. He showed lots of knowledge as a two-way player as reflected by his -1 plus-minus rating. Pairing Pihlstrom with Arnott and Dumont will only help him grow.
Any D-man not named Weber or Suter- After the loss of three veterans the youngsters have to step up now. Shea and Ryan will not be able to play every minute and when they are not on the ice, teams will get their scorers out there. Returning D-man from last season combined for seven goals, while Weber and Suter combined for 30. Someone will have to step out and my bet is Kevin Klein.
This season will prove more difficult than last year. Scoring, defense, and penalty killing will hurt this team.
But, if they continue to follow the molds of teams in their division like Chicago and Columbus than this team will be good, later.
Games will be close thanks to Pekka Rinne, Shea Weber, and Ryan Suter; but it just won't be enough. With a record of 33-37-12, Nashville will finish way outside the playoff picture.