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Nashville Predators set a fine scoring pace in the 1st half

With the Nashville Predators having kicked off the 2nd half of the 2009-10 NHL season with their 3-1 victory over Anaheim last night, it's a fitting time to check in with the projections that I had made back in early October for each individual Pred, and see how they've done to this point.

We've certainly seen some surprises along the way, but other stories have turned out as expected. In the comments below, I'd like to get your thoughts on what has impressed you about the Predators' 1st half.

Here's the listing of the Preds alongside my pre-season projection for their offensive stats, along with the pace they've set so far:

Pre-season Pace
 Name GP G A Pts   October Comment GP G A Pts   2nd-half Comment
Jason Arnott 70 35 30 65   Might benefit the most from Sully's presence. 68 23 27 51  10-game goal scoring drought recently ended, team could use a resurgence from him.
Wade Belak 50 1 2 3   If he scores, it'll be a heck of a celebration. 45 0 4 4  Doesn't chuck the knuckles much, but playing well when asked to.
Francis Bouillon 70 2 10 12   By the end of the year, he'll make people forget Greg Zanon. 82 2 10 12  What did I tell ya? Zanon who?
J.P. Dumont 80 20 55 75   Has two genuine goal-scorers on his line, and lots of PP time. 68 14 37 51  Relegation to the Goc line hurts his individual numbers, but adds to team scoring depth.
Martin Erat 75 18 40 58   A career-high in points, but not enough to get excited about. 72 27 25 53  Red-hot streak reversed a lousy start. How will he return from injury?
Marcel Goc 70 4 10 14   Think of him as the new Radek Bonk, but costing half as much. 78 16 16 31  Bonk's 1st year in Nashville? 14 G, 15 A.
Ben Guite 60 2 6 8   Think of him as the new Scott Nichol, but costing half as much. 8 0 0 0  Looks like an Admiral this season.
Dan Hamhuis 80 5 20 25   Doesn't get the attention that Weber & Suter do, but he's gold. 74 8 16 23  The opening weeks looked like a disaster, but things have settled down.
Patric Hornqvist 60 12 20 32   2nd strong pre-season in a row, but in a battle for playing time. 80 25 18 43  Best hope for keeping up the scoring is that he leads the team in Shots. He's in the mix every night.
Ryan Jones 65 10 15 25   Off to a slow start coming out of training camp, must earn opportunity. 45 8 2 10  Can't seem to fight his way into a major role here.
Kevin Klein 80 4 12 16   Should prosper as a Top 4 defenseman after years of preparation. 80 2 14 16  First season as a Top 4 guy could be better, could be a lot worse.
Teemu Laakso 30 1 3 4   Will be eased into NHL action. 14 0 0 0  Still talked of highly by the organization.
David Legwand 75 22 34 56   A healthy rebound from last season, but not quite career highs. 82 20 31 51  Prospering as the shutdown guy.
Mike Santorelli 70 16 20 36   Speed and chemistry with Legwand & Erat give cause for hope. 45 4 2 6  His preseason magic just disappeared entirely.
Jerred Smithson 82 1 5 6   Defensive specialist isn't relied upon for scoring. 72 12 2 14  He's been opportunistic to this point, but I doubt he'll hit 10 goals.
Steve Sullivan 70 30 40 70   Offensive dynamo is the key to improved team play. 82 18 31 49  His speed isn't as big a difference-maker as it used to be, but he's still a threat.
Alexander Sulzer 55 1 6 7   Must work his way back into the lineup, but skill set is valuable. 21 0 2 2  Call him "Mr. Yo-Yo" for all his travel between Nashville & Milwaukee.
Ryan Suter 82 12 40 52   Continuing to mature as a top-level defenseman. 82 4 35 39  Looking forward to a key role on Team USA next month.
Jordin Tootoo 65 6 6 12   Will this be enough to earn #22 a new contract with Nashville? 37 4 14 18  Played well before getting injured.
Joel Ward 70 8 15 23   Expected to play major role on 3rd line and special teams. 78 14 29 43  We like him, we love him, we can't get enough of him.
Shea Weber 82 17 35 52   Must establish consistent performance at last year's elite level. 78 14 31 45  Battled through nagging injuries, and can do it all.
Colin Wilson 50 8 20 28   Can't expect everyday NHL dominance yet, but coming soon. 20 2 2 4  Preds need to tread slowly and make sure his groin is 100% before bringing him back.
 Goalies GS W Sv % SO   Comment GP W Sv % SO   Comment
Dan Ellis 24 10 .908 3   He will get his chance to shine, likely earning a job somewhere else next year. 37 18 .906 0  Has been solid when called upon, will probably continue to get 1/3 or so of the work going forward.
Pekka Rinne 58 35 .915 8   Will be pressed by Ellis, but appears ready for the challenge. 55 31 .908 4  Hasn't taken a step forward in his 2nd NHL season, but hasn't fallen too far back, either. Improved team offense has helped tremendously.

The goalie numbers for "pace" use Games Played, as I couldn't find a good reference as to how many games each has started so far.

Not the goal-starved wretches that most (not all) predicted

The point that surprises most observers is that the Preds have managed to tally 2.79 Goals per Game, good for 13th in the NHL. What I had hoped for during the pre-season has largely come true, however; by pairing David Legwand with a pair of checkers (Joel Ward and Jerred Smithson, mostly) Nashville is better able to put together some decent scoring punch on a 3rd line, which recently has included Patric Hornqvist, Marcel Goc, and J.P. Dumont.

At their current rate, the Preds will score 227 goals this season. I projected them to score 235.

Going forward, I think there's a short-term hole that might be an area of focus at the trading deadline if the Preds decide to gear up for a playoff run. Marcel Goc has earned praise for centering Hornqvist and Dumont, but I really think Nashville could do much better in that role. Goc is better suited to 4th-line work and the occasional cameo taking a key faceoff, than centering a scoring line. The conventional wisdom has the Preds needed a scoring winger, but between Sullivan, Dumont, Erat and Hornqvist I think they've got that covered. A good pivot might also help that awful power play...

Hornqvist's triumph

During the exhibition season, it looked like Santorelli, Jones and Hornqvist all had an opportunity to earn a major role on the wing. What is important here is that there was pretty much only one prime slot available to compete for, as opposed to last season when rookies were expected to plug two major holes. Steve Sullivan's return has allowed the young players to develop at a more reasonable pace, and Hornqvist's determination to drive to the net and generate shots has clearly separated him from the pack.

A soft sophomore slump

Pekka Rinne has indeed assumed something close to a #1 starter's job this season, but hasn't shown the consistent dominance of last season's 2nd half. Many 2nd-year NHL goalies fall much harder than Rinne has this season (right, Steve Mason?), and there's no reason to believe that the team should be overly concerned here. If anything, a modest campaign makes it a little easier to sign him to a contract extension.