The Nashville Predators are off to the best start in their history, as optimism of another playoff run intensifies. Going into Thursday night’s showdown in St. Louis, the Predators stood at 10-3-2, at the top of the division and in the top-5 in the NHL on a three-game winning streak. Tuesday night, Nashville defeated Edmonton 3-2 on their return to home ice following the annual CMA road trip, which was a rousing 4-2-0 success this year.
The season began with a pair of victories over Ottawa 3-2 and Dallas 4-1 before their first loss, 3-2, in a shootout to the much-improved Calgary Flames. The first road trip of the season saw a split overall but points gained in each game with a 2-0 shutout win in Winnipeg from Pekka Rinne—and a tough 2-1 overtime loss in Chicago on some magic from Jonathan Toews. Nashville then returned home to defeat the Arizona Coyotes 4-3 in a shootout and Chicago 3-2 in a tense affair before their only real stinker so far this season, a 3-0 loss to the Penguins as Sidney Crosby lit the lamp. Nashville stood at 5-1-2 entering the arduous annual road trip as country music took over Bridgestone Arena.
The swing began through western Canada with a 4-1 win in Edmonton, but then a 4-3 loss in Calgary where the Preds blew a two-goal lead. Two nights later saw a strong 3-1 win in Vancouver against a Canucks team certainly on the rebound from missing the playoffs a season ago. A return trip to Winnipeg saw a poor first period translate to a 3-1 defeat. The trip ended with a pair of division opponents and a pair of impressive third periods in beating Dallas 3-2 and St. Louis 2-1. The win over the Oilers Tuesday gave the Predators their tenth win of the season, setting up Thursday’s game for first place in the Central Division.
The key to Nashville’s unprecedented start has to be goaltender Pekka Rinne. With more offensive firepower leading to reduced stress on the back end, Rinne has shined. Having started 13 of the first 15 games, Rinne was 10-2-1 with a 1.83 goals against average. Carter Hutton has been solid in his two starts, as well. He figures to see a bit more playing time as we go—but not too much as long as Rinne is healthy.
Offensively, the breakout star so far is 19-year old Filip Forsberg. Forsberg leads the team with 17 points including seven goals, a point-per-game pace is rare in today’s NHL. On top of that, he leads the league at a +17 rating.
Big acquisition James Neal has not disappointed, scoring eight goals to lead the team with more than a 40-goal pace, consistent with his years in Pittsburgh. Mike Ribeiro has added four goals, and Derek Roy seven assists—though he is looking for his first goal as a Predator. Olli Jokinen has strangely not yet tallied a single point, though he seems in the middle of things. Matt Cullen has two goals and three assists in only seven games following injury providing a definite spark.
There are real reasons for alarm, however. So far the Predators power play is only 22nd in the league and the penalty killing is third worst in the NHL. Also, the bump in offense we hoped for has not materialized of yet. Nashville still ranks 23rd in scoring and 21st in shots. Still, it’s an outstanding beginning to what we hope is a playoff season come the spring.