Predators in great shape heading into final 10 games
Crazy to think that Nashville would be able to fix its issues from earlier in the season and sit where they sit now with 10 games left in the season, but here we are!
With the final 10 games of the 2015-16 regular season coming up for Nashville, it's interesting to take a look where the team is now compared to where they were one calendar year ago.
Going into the final 10 last season, the Predators had a 4-9-2 record in their previous 15 games before finishing the season winning four straight and losing the next six -- excluding the first round loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games.
This season it's been completely different.
After shoveling what seemed to be a never-ending pile of excrement during November, December and January, Nashville has rattled off an 11-2-4 record in its past 17 games -- second-best in the league since February 13th, only behind the Anaheim Ducks.
It's the first time all season that I've really looked at this team and thought they might have finally figured it out with most players -- as a whole -- functioning as a well-oiled machine.
Since January, Nashville's found itself in the top ten for penalty kill percentage in the NHL at 84.8 percent -- this includes seven straight games without allowing a power play goal, dating back to that March 3rd stinker against the New Jersey Devils.
In that same span, they're also doing plenty of shot prevention as well -- posting the sixth-best shots against numbers across the league.
Most importantly, though, goaltending has been vastly improved from earlier in the year.
Over the last 26 games, both Pekka Rinne and Carter Hutton posted identical goals-against-average and save percentages of 2.14 and 0.924 -- netting a 16-5-5 record combined between the two netminders.
Pointing all of this out, it's best to keep one very important thing in mind after the next 10 games come and go: regardless of what the Predators have done in the regular season and against who, nothing really matters once the playoffs start.
That includes whoever ends up being Nashville's first round opponent.
Statistically-speaking, the Predators are going to end up with either Los Angeles or Dallas whoever wins the Central Division in the first round.
It's easy to pick apart any team that Nashville could potentially face and say "well, here's a handful of reasons that the Predators will lose" or "boy, that's just a bad match-up". Every team has its pros and cons -- and I'm sure plenty of teams are looking at Nashville and saying the exact same thing about them.
When you boil everything down, Nashville's playing some of the best hockey across the entire league. If they can finish as strong in the last 10 games as they've been in nearly the past 30, then that same momentum should easily roll into the postseason.
That's not to say the path to any sort of postseason success will be easy for the Predators. It's never easy. But at this point in the season, more so than in January, Nashville's primed for a deeper run in the playoffs than they've had in the past handful of years.
The offense is scoring, the defense is...well, defending -- doing so surprisingly well after the loss of Seth Jones in the trade that sent Ryan Johansen to the Predators -- and the goalies are doing their share of the work.
It's not just that either, players who weren't even supposed to factor into Nashville's lineup this season are becoming mainstays.
They haven't looked this dominant since 2011-12. That team was booted from the postseason due to some bad coaching decisions midway through a very winnable season. Even with the possible addition of a Jimmy Vesey to the lineup in the next couple of weeks, I doubt the same mistakes will be made again.
With a little puck luck thrown in, something the Predators saw very little of late last season, it could be a very entertaining spring for Nashville.