The Nashville Predators are in first place at the All-Star Break for the first time in franchise history, and excitement is at an all-time high. After two successive seasons missing the playoffs, this team is a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. But there is a bump in the road: the injury to Pekka Rinne.
Nashville stands at 30-10-5, good for 65 points and first place in the league’s best division, the Central. Chicago and St. Louis are very close behind so the injury to the all-star goaltender is immense. A sprained knee has sidelined Rinne for one week so far with another 2-4 expected. Let us hope for the ‘two.’ If the loss of Rinne brings a slump, it could set the Predators back a great deal. What we have seen from backup Carter Hutton has not been the most encouraging.
Rinne leads the NHL with 29 wins, meaning Hutton has but one, in eight starts. In the first three games without Rinne, Hutton was inconsistent in a win over Washington, awful in getting pulled in Detroit, and decent in an overtime loss in Montreal on Tuesday. The hope is for this team to stay afloat until Rinne returns. Confidence cannot be very high in Hutton.
Nashville won 10 of their first 15 this season, with winning two of every three the trend. Mid-November saw a loss in St. Louis, a division win over Winnipeg, then a record performance winning in Toronto 9-2. There was a loss two nights later in Ottawa setting the stage for a dramatic home stand, four consecutive one-goal wins, three in overtime, and a shootout closed November at 16-5-2.
A loss at Carolina opened December; a dramatic win on home-ice over the Blues preceded a loss to Chicago; a Rinne shutout in Colorado; and a five-goal outburst in Arizona before a flat 2-0 loss in San Jose; then two of the most exciting games of the season, a shootout win over Boston and an overtime win in Minnesota. The team crushed Columbus before a return trip to Boston and a 5-3 defeat, leaving Nashville 22-9-2 at Christmas.
A three game in four-night stretch saw Nashville with home wins over Philadelphia and St. Louis sandwiched around an overtime heartbreaker in Chicago. The first of the year saw another three-in-four stretch with a memorable 7-6 OT win in Los Angeles; a shootout loss in Anaheim; and a home win over Carolina that ignited a five-game winning streak. Dallas and Minnesota fell next; then the win over Vancouver, and the injury to Rinne from a collision in the crease.
League leaders at the symbolic halfway mark from the Predators include Rinne, first in wins with 29, second in goals against at 1.96, and third in save percentage at 93.1%. He would probably be the NHL’s MVP through the first half, a point made stronger by his absence. Filip Forsberg leads rookie scoring and stands third in plus/minus at +24. He is the favorite for the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year and Shea Weber is the frontrunner for the Norris as top defenseman.
As a team, the new system has the Predators standing ninth in goals scored while still leading the NHL in goals against. Special teams must improve, however. Nashville is 24th on the Power Play, though it is improving—but 25th against the Power Play.
How far this team goes depends on the health of Rinne. The team expects to get him back around Valentine’s Day, and that would surely be a lovely gift.