The Predators return to action tonight, looking to build off of some All-Star momentum and, oh yeah, a four-game winning streak. The Preds were well represented in the All-Star Game, with all 4 participants playing quite well. (Side note: have we talked about Rinne's illegal playing the puck penalty? LAME) Not only that, but they all seemed to be having a good time and enjoying themselves. Hopefully they come back well rested and can join up with the rest of the team ready to rock n' roll.
32 games remain on the regular season schedule. 12 are against Central Division opponents. 18 are home games. 5 back-to-back pairings.
Let's see some magic.
The St Louis Blues
The last time the Preds faced the Blues, the good guys managed to get a point out of a 4-3 OT loss in St. Louis. You'll recall that the Preds fought back in that game, scoring twice in the final 4 minutes to tie it up, only to lose on an Alex Steen goal in 3-on-3.
The Blues are only scoring at a 2.42 goals per game rate (22nd in the league), which is worse than the Preds' 2.54 goals per game mark. But they still pose dangers, with Vladimir Tarasenko (25 goals) and Alex Steen (15 goals) leading the way. Shutting down #91 is the #1 priority. But you can't sleep on guys like David Backes, Paul Stastny and rookie Robbi Fabbri, who can score in variety of ways.
Defensively, the Blues allow only 2.40 goals per game (9th in the league). Jake Allen is the main reason why, with a solid .924 save percentage. And we all know that Allen is capable of absolutely stealing games for the Blues. Getting to Jake Allen early and often will be the key to this one.
The Nashville Predators
The Predators are in a considerably different position right now than they were in early February of last year. On the verge of trading for Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli, in February of 2015 the Preds were near the top of the Central Division and riding high following the All-Star break. They were also on the verge of bottoming-out during the race for the playoffs, where they lost 9 of 11 games in early March and finished the regular season on a 6 game losing streak. Last year's Predators, much like this year's, were a puck-possession machine, but also benefited from some generous puck-luck early in the season. Here's the 2014-15 Predators PDO graphically through February 2015:
That's a lot of time spent over the 100 mark, indicating they were performing better than average for much of the first half. A lot of people saw the regression coming and boy were they right. The end wasn't pretty.
So what about this year? Lack of consistent goal-scoring from the top off-season commitments, too much dependence on scoring from the blue-line, and sub-par goaltending have been the stories thus far. And barely clinging to a playoff spot. The arrival of RyJo has been a revelation. But what about the luck factor? Here's the 2015-16 Predators PDO graphically up-to-date:
A much different "luck narrative" than last year at this point. A lot of time spent under that 100 mark and a crazy dip in mid-November... falling nearly to an 80 over a 3 game moving average is pretty insane (thank you, Jake "PDO Wizard" Allen). Are the Predators trending up? It's hard to tell, but maybe. At the end of the year, most teams will end up around the 100 mark over a 82 game season, perhaps a bit above or a bit below. The Predators are currently at 98.7, which is 25th in the league. An increase in shooting and save percentages is likely, though not guaranteed. Teams finish below the 100 mark every year, with last year's Sharks being a good example of a team that really should have had better luck, but didn't (they finished at 99.0 and missed the playoffs).
You have to think that better luck is on the horizon. But with Ryan Johansen finally in gold, do we really need luck?
(Yes... yes we do)
Reasons To Watch
- James Neal looked awfully good in the All-Star game. Comfortable, locked-in, happy... how about a nice goal-scoring streak to start the playoff run?
- Pekka Rinne has been on an up-swing of late. Crazy numbers over those last 4 games before the All-Star break. Keep it going, big guy.
- The race for the playoffs is officially on. The Preds are clinging to a wild-card spot, but how much longer can they hold on? Do they make a run for a top 3 spot in the Central?
Obligatory John Scott Homage
John Scott, master of zen minimalism, on All-Star weekend:
"...Probably one of the better weekends of my life, I'm not going to lie."
The Important Details
7PM Central puck-drop. Tune in: FS-TN, Listen in: 102.5 The Game