Craig Smith rescued from the Lost and Found bin
We talked about it after Monday night's game against the Dallas Stars, but Predators forward Craig Smith may have finally found whatever he had been looking for during the first 50 or so games of the 2015-16 season.
For the second straight game Smith started Nashville's scoring, potting a goal past Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask less than three minutes into the opening frame. Not only that, but Smith tied for second among Predators players in shots against Boston and ranked first in Nashville's nightly Corsi totals.
It almost feels as though a switch has been flipped somewhere in the twisting tunnels of Smith's cranial regions. He's easily the second-most frustrating player on the roster, behind Colin Wilson, for the "almost" and "nearly had it" plays. Not only that, but Smith remains one of the few players that legitimately should be performing better than how his current stats reflect.
With how Smith has played in the last handful of games, not just the last two against Dallas and Boston, there should be reason to remain hopeful that he'll continue to factor into the stat sheet for the remaining 24 regular season games and, just maybe, a long stretch into the postseason.
Right place, right time
Plenty of times this season have I felt that Nashville's been the victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Whether it's a player's stick just a shade from tipping the puck on a potential game-tying goal or a goaltender floating a mere inch or two out of position, the Predators seemingly owned this category if it could even be measured.
Against the Bruins on Thursday evening, Nashville controlled the pace of the play for the first 40 minutes before bracing defensively for the final 20 and found themselves -- body, stick, nearly everything -- in the right place at the right time, preventing a slew of Bruins chances over the course of the game that could have ended up in the back of the Predators net.
He doesn't get enough praise for the job he does, but Predators defenseman Anthony Bitetto has done a fantastic job over the last couple of games that he's found his way into the lineup. One thing that definitely sticks out has been Bitetto's penchant for laying his body in front of opposing shots in an effort to minimize chances towards both Rinne and Carter Hutton. Bitetto finished the night as one of only three players to block three or more shots on the night.
It's the little things that the Predators have been missing in their search for successful consistency. Albeit a small sample size this week, Nashville's been fortunate to benefit from the little things rather than find itself hampered by them.
Building that forward momentum
Nashville has only 24 games remaining in the regular season. That's it.
After the 2-0 win against Boston, it places the Predators back on top of the wild card race, tied with Colorado and having two games in hand. Nashville's chances of catching St. Louis, Chicago or Dallas at this point are fairly remote, seeing that the Blues -- who are the closest within reach -- are still 13 points ahead.
The good news for the Predators is they're playing some of the better hockey they've played this season, outside the month of October. Six of Nashville's next eight games, and only half of those are at Bridgestone Arena, come against teams at or within earshot of a playoff position.
The Predators have to continue with the momentum they gained in the last two games as they meet Los Angeles, Montreal and Toronto over the next three games.
Obviously, the kicker here being that the next three games immediately after that come against the three best teams in the Central Division: Chicago, St. Louis and Dallas in that order.
How important are those games? Four to five wins in that span of six could propel Nashville closer to popping into the divisional race than they deemed possible. If they could magically earn a spot there, it would most likely forego a meet-up with either Chicago, Dallas or Los Angeles in the first round -- which would most certainly be, in my opinion, a death wish for an early exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The players and coaches know how important this time of the year is, however I can't stress enough how important the next two weeks are. It could easily make or break the remainder of Nashville's season.
Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators -- While there were times that I thought Rinne's tracking was a bit suspect, which has been the case for the majority of the season, he played a fantastic game after riding the pine over the last two. He earned the shutout, stopping all 29 Boston shots.
Filip Forsberg, Nashville Predators -- Six goals in six games and he hits the 20-goal marker for the second-straight season and continues to look every much as dynamic as he did during the first half of last season. That's the Forsberg that Nashville needs right now.
Craig Smith, Nashville Predators -- Speaking of the type of player the Predators need right now, Craig Smith has been there when against both Dallas and Boston. Another goal tonight and an even better performance, in my opinion, than we saw Monday.