It's amazing what a five-game point streak can do to change the mood around the Nashville Predators. Coming off a terrible road trip and two shootout losses against bottom tier teams, many people were inching their way towards the panic button. Three straight convincing wins later, and the tide has turned.
To add to the good vibes, the Central Division is a far cry from holding its usual stranglehold as the best division in hockey so far this season. Only two teams in the division have won more games than they've lost. That makes the stumble out of the gate from Nashville a much easier climb than if it happened the past couple of seasons.
While currently sitting in sixth place, the Predators have the third highest point percentage within the division. The leading Blackhawks were thought to take a step down after losing a couple key assets from last season's squad.
Chicago's record is a solid 11-3-2, but a slight regression is likely imminent with their PDO (aka "puck luck") ranking 4th highest in the NHL. Their 50.23 CF% is a league average 16th in the league. A big change for a usual top five possession team. (Stats from Sporting Charts and Corsica Hockey)
The Minnesota Wild, sitting in second place, are going to struggle to be a true contender with Eric Staal as their top line center and less than stellar forward talent surrounding him. Winnipeg has some nice young pieces led by the electric rookie Patrik Laine, but they more than likely are a couple seasons away from becoming a big threat in the West.
Point projections over past fortnight. pic.twitter.com/8l9LOYuxOo— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) November 14, 2016
If the first month is any indication, the Central Division as a whole took a step back from their powerhouse position of the recent past. The top five Central teams in the 2015 season combined for a point percentage of .612 through the 82-game schedule. The top five this year sit at an average of .585.
Minnesota is second and on pace for only 98 points. Each of the top four in the Central reached the 100-point plateau last season.
The division is still compromised of some very talented teams that can find an extra gear with a lot of hockey left to play. The depth 1-7 of the Central can go toe-to-toe with any of the other three divisions, but the top teams aren't a step above the competition right now.
That's great news for the Predators as they look to have begun clicking and gaining chemistry on the blue line. Pekka is playing above expectations, and perhaps most importantly they are within striking distance of the teams within the division.
Nashville has their own kinks to get worked out going forward and shouldn't be overly concerned with their peer's success level. But it's a comforting feeling for the fan base and team to know the impact of the slow start was minimized due to the less dominant Central Division.