Nashville Predators’ Early-Season Grade
At the quarter pole of the NHL season, the Nashville Predators have exceeded expectations. Fans sensed that they could be a better team than last year, but they needed to have young players emerge and hope for the best with bargain signings. The Predators needed a lot of parts to fall into place, and they have as the team sits atop the Central Division. Time will tell if the team can continue this pace, but at this point they could not have asked for more.
The Predators enter December on a four-game winning streak after sweeping their last homestand. After 23 games they are 16-5-2 and tied atop the Central Division with 34 points, having played one less game than the St. Louis Blues. Nashville is an impressive 10-1-1 at home this season. That is due in large part to having one of the best defenses in all of the NHL, allowing only 46 goals to this point.
Peter Laviolette has allowed his team to play an entertaining style of hockey that does not hamper the younger players. Rookie Filip Forsberg is a big reason the Predators have been successful. His 23 points in 23 games is the best start for a rookie since Evgeni Malkin in 2006. Forsberg’s 10 goals are most on the team. He epitomizes the offensive difference with this team that currently sits seventh in even-strength scoring. They finished 12th in that category last year.
The deals in the offseason paid off as well, as James Neal has been a difference maker. Mike Ribeiro has hit a resurgence and is second on the team in points. Anton Volchenkov has been a steady contributor outside of his suspension and has provided leadership to the young defensemen.
Pekka Rinne, Craig Smith and Shea Weber have been big contributors as well in the early going. Smith may be the most surprising player accounting for 14 points, which is fifth on the team. Veterans, young players and new acquisitions have all managed to fit into the team and get off to a great start.
The Predators’ current form could change through injury, but for now Laviolette has to hope that things continue. Nashville could not have asked for a better start in the highly competitive Western Conference.
Early Season Grade: A