Each game that passes brings the city of Nashville one step closer to another trip to the Stanley Cup playoffs. One game closer to seeing what Peter Laviolette can produce in his sophomore season behind the bench for the Predators. I've written about it previously, but Nashville's clearly in better shape now than they were just one year ago.
It's intriguing to look back at what unfolded last year and what's happening now with Nashville. They're clearly a team that's found the gear necessary to finish the season strong and perhaps make some noise in the post-season.
But most importantly, they're showing continuous signs of what makes good teams good.
Turn back the clock to Thursday night against the Vancouver Canucks. Nashville had zero business winning that game, let alone scoring a goal for that matter. With less than 10 minutes remaining in regulation, the Predators notched two goals in 72 seconds to tie it up and didn't look back from there.
"You're not going to have your best game every night," said Predators defenseman Roman Josi. "If you don't, it's important to get points or get a win and just try to find a way. Over the last 20 or 30 games, we've been doing a good job of that."
For nearly 52 minutes of hockey, Nashville was handily beat in every facet of that game. After scoring the first marker against Ryan Miller, the sell-out crowd rallied around the team and seemingly generated enough energy to will the team to its game-tying goal and through the rest of regulation and overtime.
Once they scored that first goal, you could tell that they weren't going to lose that game. That all they needed was that one to kick-start their generator. Frankly, I was shocked they didn't win the game in either regulation or overtime - they produced more than enough quality chances after tying it to do so.
"It wasn't the prettiest [win] by any means," said Predators forward Ryan Johansen. "When we needed some saves, [Rinne] was there to keep it a two-goal game. We have a lot of guys in this room that have offensive capabilities to make some plays. It was noticeable against Vancouver."
Fast-forward to Saturday night. Nashville didn't have the same struggles that it did against Vancouver on Thursday. Dominating from the first period puck drop, the Predators poured 27 shots on Columbus in the first, but only held a 2-1 lead due to a steadily increasing forecheck from the Blue Jackets late into the opening frame.
Nashville held off whatever storm Columbus could muster and blew them out of the water by a final of 5-1 - recording a season-high 48 shots in the process.
After three different types of games this week, it says something that the Predators found three different ways to win.
"Every game [this week] seemed to have a different style to them," Johansen noted. "In each one of them were able to overcome a little adversity at times and manage those momentum swings. Overall, out of the last few, we've played for the most part some smart hockey."
Teams that compete for a Stanley Cup year in and year out are the same ones that have these levels of resiliency. Earning those improbable comebacks and benefiting from their star players generating the statistics they need to succeed.
In the past, it was clearly a "scoring by committee" approach for Nashville - something Barry Trotz was proud of in his tenure with the team.
Now? The Predators, while not counting the normal heavy production from their blue line, are seeing their offense coming from the likes of Filip Forsberg and James Neal.
Not only that, but stellar goaltending has been a huge factor for the team as well.
"It all starts with [Rinne] back there," said Johansen. "You can't win in this league unless you have a great goalie and he's been great the last two months. I don't think I've ever had so much confidence in a goaltender before. Through junior and all that stuff. He's world class and so is everyone else on this team."
It's a different type of team with Laviolette behind the helm, something that's obviously changed the way David Poile does his job with Nashville. No longer are they looking to acquire depth forwards to fill in spots on the third and fourth line that didn't need to be addressed.
The only thing left to see is whether or not the Predators can do some damage in the postseason at some point during Laviolette's tenure with the organization and if they can lure in some high-talent free agents come the offseason. With the lineup they're boasting now, especially after the addition of Ryan Johansen, the team should be able to rival the signing of Paul Kariya - arguably the greatest free agent signing in franchise history.
THE FIVE POINTS - Five stories intersecting the NHL
Avalanche buried - After Saturday's 4-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild, it's going to be pretty difficult to see the Colorado Avalanche fighting back into the playoff hunt. The biggest head-scratcher, though, came from head coach Patrick Roy.
Roy, notoriously known for pulling his goaltender earlier than normal late in regulation to give his team a 6-on-5 advantage, yanked goaltender Semyon Varlamov with 10:25 left in regulation down 3-0 against the Wild.
The result? Minnesota cashed in on an empty net goal and Colorado's playoff chances continue to get slimmer.
Listen, I get pulling the goaltender early in a game. I do. But with 10 minutes left? C'mon. Part of me hope he tries the same thing against Nashville on Monday night.
Blackhawks falling behind - After a 5-2 win over Detroit to start the month of March, Chicago has seemingly fallen apart in the race for the Central Division crown. Since then, they've combined for three wins and six points over their next 10 games and are just two points ahead of Nashville with the Predators fighting them tooth-and-nail for the final spot in the Central's top three.
Part of the reason? Lack of scoring, primarily. Chicago's guns have fallen fairly quiet this month, with some of its most notable players barely scratching the surface.
Teuvo Teravainen and Andrew Ladd both have six points in the last 10 games. Jonathan Toews and rookie sensation Artemi Panarin both have five points. Who else has five points? The NHL points leader, Patrick Kane.
That's a problem.
I have no doubts that the Hawks will figure it out come April, but seeing them fall out of the division race in just a couple of weeks has them in a position to potentially meet the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the playoffs. They may be a great playoff team, but that matchup isn't one that Chicago particularly wants in the first round.
Blues quietly making waves - Speaking of streaky teams, St. Louis has traveled in the exact opposite direction that Chicago is travelling.
Outside of a couple winning streaks, January and February weren't particularly kind to the Blues, seeing them enter March with 81 points - two points behind both Chicago and Dallas in the standings. Since then, they've won nine of 11 and have four straight shutouts behind the combined efforts of Brian Elliott and Jake Allen.
St. Louis hasn't had the greatest playoff record behind head coach Ken Hitchcock, but at this point they've become an extremely scary team that isn't earning the kind of attention that they should be earning.
Four straight shutouts? Granted, while two of those came against Vancouver, two of those came against San Jose and Washington. That's a statement in and of itself.
Nashville could see the Blues in the first round of the playoffs. It's a very distinct possibility. The Predators have a 1-3-1 record against St. Louis this season. Two of those losses were by shutout. I'd say Nashville would probably want to avoid that matchup.
Trotz-led Capitals entering historic territory - Who would've thought that a Barry Trotz-led Washington Capitals team would post some of the best records in team history during his second year with the organization?
With only two more wins, the Capitals will break a 20-year record for most regulation or overtime wins in franchise history. Washington's previous record was set in 1985-86 as that team posted 50 wins in a pre-shootout era.
Not just that, but the Capitals just broke another franchise record with 25 road wins - another milestone that most couldn't have expected would be broken anytime soon.
It's not a slight at Barry Trotz at all, but I never thought they'd be breaking those kind of records in his tenure with the club. Not in the least.
A legend calling out a legendary organization - When a legendary player for the oldest organization in the NHL calls out the same team that he played over 13 seasons for, people take notice.
Guy Lafleur, who played in over 1,100 games in the NHL and recorded 1,353 points, went on record with NBC's ProHockeyTalk ripping into his former team and essentially tearing them to bits.
"It's strange to see that one man could make a big difference because Carey Price doesn't score any goals," Lafleur told PHT. "Some of the guys, some of the leaders have to show up a bit more and they have to take charge."
Finding the back of the net has been problematic for Montreal. Outside of Alex Galchenyuk and Max Pacioretty, no other player has hit the 20-goal mark this season (Gallagher's been injured).
When asked what he thought the Canadiens needed to add in the off-season, Lafleur had a pretty interesting answer.
"The off-season? They have to get some better players (laughs). The way I look at it right now, there's no first line, second line, third line. I think they have four fourth lines."
Four fourth lines? That's one way to put it. He's not wrong, though. The loss of Carey Price shouldn't have affected the Canadiens the way it did, but they've absolutely fallen apart. Even though Alex Galchenyuk and Max Pacioretty have had fairly decent seasons, the rest of the team as a whole has not.
It's hard to imagine just how this team could have fallen the way it has, but you have to indeed put some of the blame on the on-ice leadership. Even if Price were to have come back some time earlier this season, would it have been enough of an emotional boost? It's hard to say, but right now Montreal is an incredible mess.
The Final Word
Let's talk about the Jimmy Vesey saga between the 22-year-old collegiate athlete out of Harvard and the Nashville Predators.
Ever since speculation started that Vesey could just bypass the Predators completely - a team that drafted him back in 2012 - and hit the free agent market in August, the way the team has approached the subject of Vesey has reeked of desperation.
That may sound harsh, but if you've been following the drama unfold through social media, no doubt you've seen the different stories that the team has put out this month alone that have - in one way or another - touched on Vesey in highlight fashion or an entire feature.
Poile even decided to stand pat at the trade deadline in the hopes that the addition of Vesey would be their trade deadline acquisition, essentially.
With Jimmy Vesey in mind, the #Preds elected to keep the status quo at the Deadline. Story: https://t.co/lUXw2EEczY pic.twitter.com/ewF58yjU8J— Nashville Predators (@PredsNHL) March 1, 2016
"We've kept a spot open for him, and we've talked about when his season ends to bring him right onto our team put him right into our lineup," Poile said of Vesey. "When you make a promise like that, you have to keep that promise. I didn't want to trade away his spot..."
The Predators hedging their bets that Vesey will sign with the team. They made sure not to make any type of trades on deadline day to guarantee a spot would be available to if he decided to join the club.
IF he decides to join the club.
Saturday night, Nashville released a statement about Vesey and their ongoing plans for the young forward.
A statement from the @PredsNHL on Jimmy Vesey: pic.twitter.com/waG8SB9fov— KWilsonPreds (@KWilsonPreds) March 26, 2016
This came at 6:33pm central time. Less than 30 minutes prior to puck drop against the Blue Jackets.
Not only does the timing of this statement seem very suspicious, making it less a news story than it could be if it were to have been released earlier in the day or even on Sunday, but the wording of it is even more peculiar.
"...David [Poile] and Predators' hockey personnel plan to meet with Jimmy, his family and his representatives to discuss and reinforce his opportunities to begin his NHL career with the Predators in the immediate future."
This reads to me that Nashville is heading up to Boston to make sure Vesey understands that if he wants to play now, he has the option to do so with the Predators.
And that's all it says.
It makes no guarantees that the entourage will fly home from Boston with a signed contract between them and Vesey in tow.
For a team that has been clearly counting on Vesey signing with them once his collegiate career came to a close, something tells me that the organization may regret doing so later down the road - much in the way the public circus ran during and after the Ryan Suter drama just a handful of years ago.
If Vesey ends up not signing with Nashville, he'll join both Kevin Hayes of the New York Rangers and Mike Reilly of the Minnesota Wild as the latest players who signed with different teams than the ones they were drafted to - seeing their rights expire after lengthy college careers.
Ultimately, that may need to be something addressed by the NHL. To me, it doesn't seem right that once a player is drafted they could potentially wait around for four years and then choose to sign with a team other than the one that used a valuable draft selection to acquire their rights.
It may just be me that thinks that, but there's no way I can be the only one. Just ask the Blackhawks and Blue Jackets, maybe even the Predators here soon. I'm sure they'd all agree with that sentiment.