Power Play: Nashville Predators streaking into March
It couldn't possibly come at a better time for Nashville. Recording a fourth straight win, the Predators now sit only six points back of the Blues in the Central division.
More afternoon games
There's just something nice about waking up at a reasonable time on Saturday, spending the morning with the family, getting dressed and head down to the hockey rink...at 11:30 in the morning. Before noon!
Nashville and St. Louis enjoyed a nice 2:00pm afternoon tilt, much to delight of fans and sportswriters everywhere. The benefits of this, of course, are multifaceted:
- There's still a shade of sunlight after the game.
- Night time activities are available for participation without having to begin at 10:00pm
- If you have children, they get back home and to bed at a reasonable time/
Not only do the people off the ice enjoy these afternoon games, but the players on the ice tend to favor them as well.
"I like these games a lot," said Filip Forsberg. "It's good to just wake up, have your eggs and be ready to fight."
"I wish every Saturday would be like that," laughed Pekka Rinne. "That would be fun."
Forsberg and Craig Smith hitting their stride
For the Predators, there's no player you'd like to see get into a scoring streak more than Forsberg. And to a very similar extent, Smith. Both players have the ability to score extremely talented goals when they have the opportunity to do so, but for both players to be on the mark as of late in terms of their individual scoring efforts?
Both Forsberg and Smith both factored multiple times into the scoring during Saturday's matinee against the Blues. For Forsberg, though, it wasn't just a matter of factoring into the scoring, but the Swedish phenom notched his second natural hat trick in three games and his 10th, 11th and 12th goals in 11 games and 15th point in the past 10.
Those are some staggering numbers for a player who was in a bit of a slump just a month ago.
"I'm just trying to shoot everything, I guess," said Forsberg. "I'm just trying to put it in between the red pipes."
Smith, on the other hand, collected three points of his own against St. Louis, upping his total to eight points in his last 10.
Over the course of November through January, there was plenty of talk as to when both of these players would begin to heat up and drive Nashville's scoring efforts to help break out of its slump.
Better late than never, eh? Couldn't be at a better time for the Predators, either, who climb to within six points of breaking back into the top three of the Central division
Streaking Predators break into the division discussion
After a decisive 5-0 victory over an injury-laden St. Louis team, Nashville has done something that most didn't feel would be remotely possible at this juncture: possibly jumping into the Central division's top three with less than 20 games remaining in the regular season.
"Sometimes you can have an advantage before you take the ice," said Predators head coach Peter Laviolette. "If you're ready to play, if you're mentally sharp, if you're physically prepared for what's at stake in order to be successful, that team definitely has the upper hand. Our guys have been ready.
"We've had good first periods. We've been fairly consistent throughout the game. Like I said, we've done some smart things. We've played good defense and timely offense. We've stayed out of the penalty boxes. Lots of positives."
Around the All-Star Weekend, nobody would have even thought it possible. With six wins in eight games and points in nine straight, the Predators are starting to become one of the teams that no opponent may want to see in the first round of the playoffs.
"We've really found our way to play defensively," said Forsberg. "That's the biggest key. That's the biggest thing. I think we've played really solid defensively and our goalie is coming up big with saves when we need him to."
What's more is they've rattled off three straight victories without the services of Shea Weber, something they couldn't do last season during their first round exit against the Chicago Blackhawks.
With upcoming games against the Dallas Stars, New Jersey Devils, Colorado Avalanche and Winnipeg Jets upcoming in their next four, Nashville has a chance to continue rattling off wins and increasing its position in the standings.
"There's a lot added up to get to this point," said Smith. "I thought we did a lot of great things for the stretch after Christmas. It's tough, but we got through it. Now we're starting to convert and it feels good in the room."
Here's the dilemma though: is it a smart idea for the Predators to jump into the division race where they'd face either one of Dallas or Chicago in the first round and, subsequently, the second if they make it that far?
Should they drop a couple along the way to maintain the first wildcard spot, ensuring a first round match-up with the champion out of the Pacific -- which would undoubtedly be an easier route than battling through the Central.
Ultimately, that may be out of their hands, because teams don't just throw games like that. Plus, with the Blues in a complete free-fall now, it could back the Predators up into the division's top three through no fault of their own.
Playing completely opposite of how they finished last season going into March, it's not unreasonable that Nashville streaks into the playoffs and causes some damage along the way. At this point, it's a watch-and-see for the Predators.
For the players, and especially the coaches, they're still taking it one game at a time. Which isn't a bad way to do things.
"I'm going to be honest with you, when we were there we were never talking about [getting back into the top three of the Central] for a day," said Laviolette. "Not one second did we talk about the future or if we string something together. Every day has been day-to-day and our guys have done an excellent job of making sure we're ready to play on game day. When it's time to rest, we rest. The focus has been on point for me with staying at the game on hand."
Filip Forsberg, Nashville Predators -- Three goals and an assist, tying the franchise record for most goals in a period, setting a franchise record for most hat tricks in a season with two and being the first NHL player to have multiple natural hat tricks in three or fewer games since the 1986-87 season. Just another day at the office.
Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators --With his third straight win and now 4-0-1 in his previous five starts, Rinne also boasts an 0.79 goals against average and a 0.974 save percentage with two shutouts in that span.
Craig Smith, Nashville Predators -- Having three points in the win against the Blues, Smith now has seven points in his last seven games. This is probably the best time for Smith to get hot, jumping up to eighth in team scoring.