Nashville Predators: 6 Reasons They Can Win the Western Conference in 2012
The Nashville Predators are often one of the most overlooked teams in the NHL. The Preds always are a dangerous team to face in the playoffs but have never been able to really break through and make a name for themselves.
This year they finally won their first playoff series in franchise history by beating the Anaheim Ducks in six games. I see this as only the beginning for the Predators, who can do some real damage this year in the Western Conference.
I admit a lot of things have to go right for Nashville to win the West this year, but they have as good of a shot as any of the major contenders in the conference.
1. Win by Committee
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The Predators have never had a scoring superstar in franchise history, but somehow they always find a way to win. They always grind enough to put up goals and win.
This is one of the deepest teams in the NHL. Steve Sullivan, Patrick Hornqvist, Joel Ward and Sergei Kostitsyn are just a couple of names who led the team this season. Martin Erat was tied with Kostitsyn for the team lead with 50 points but yet they still finished with the 5th seed in the tough West.
With the addition of Mike Fisher, the Predators get even deeper. Fisher adds to the Predators strength of grinding and he has a good scoring touch. With Fisher for the whole season, the Predators should be able to find the net more often.
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Shea Weber was third on the team in points last season and he is definitely a keeper for Nashville. Weber and his defensive partners play a grind-it-out style and focus on pressure.
Remember that the Predators lost their second-best defenseman last season when Dan Hamhuis left to go to Vancouver. The Preds were 5th overall last season on the penalty kill, a must for playoff teams who have to deal with power plays from teams such as the Sharks, Red Wings, Blackhawks and Canucks. Nashville also gave up the third-fewest goals in the NHL right behind...the Canucks and Bruins, who battled for the Stanley Cup.
This stat can be attributed to Nashville's strong defense and the next reason for the Predators winning the West...
3. Pekka Rinne
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Is there a better goalie in the West than Pekka Rinne? The Vezina finalist had a tremendous 2010-2011 season but it should come as a surprise to no one. Rinne has proved himself to be an elite goalie and Nashville depends on its netminder heavily.
Rinne finished the 2010-2011 regular season with a .930 save percentage which was second in the NHL behind Tim Thomas. He also was third in goals against average with a 2.12 behind Luongo (2.11) and Thomas (2.00). Defense wins for the Predators and Rinne bears a lot of the pressure.
He single-handedly won games for Nashville last season and will continue to do it if he stays healthy. A healthy Rinne will be of the most importance for this team and their hopes to win the West next season.
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Barry Trotz is one of the best coaches in the NHL. He has taken Nashville, which has been average in past years and still made the playoffs, and turned them into a perennial winner. He gets the most he can out of his guys and turns that into wins.
The Predators success is because of the players, but they would not be where they are now without the leadership of Trotz. The Predators struggled with injuries this past year and were slumping. But Trotz turned it around and was rewarded with the first playoff series victory in franchise history. This year will be his finest performance yet.
5. Invigorated Fanbase
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The Predators have not had as good of a fanbase as the NHL had hoped for when putting a team in Nashville. They have struggled with attendance in past years and have a self-imposed salary cap. The players are aware of this and a lack of a home-ice advantage hurts after a while.
Look, if nobody read my articles I would be less enthusiastic about writing. The same goes for these guys. Ideally they should not care but they are human too. It's easy to lose focus if you know that nobody really cares. That really changed in the playoffs. Nashville seemed really behind this team, smashing a Canucks car during the Western Conference Semifinals and sending the team off with a rally. The fanbase will really make an impact on the players and will be instrumental for the Preds this season.
6. Tough Division
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The Predators play in a tough division in the Central. The Red Wings are always good, the Blackhawks will be better this year, Columbus is improving and who knows with St. Louis. Playing in a tough division can only help a good team. They get to experience the highs and lows of division play and take on the best the conference can offer multiple times a year. Nashville has emerged out of its division time and time again, but this year playing in the Central will help this team take on the other teams in the West by providing valuable experience.
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The Predators are a very underrated team. To me, I look at this team and ask why can't they win the Western Conference? They have the best goalie in the West, a team who will outwork teams in a seven game series, and a good (not great) scorer in Mike Fisher. Defense wins championships and Nashville has that. I look at the Western Conference and see it as anybody's race. The spot is wide open. I think Nashville will go in and take it.