After eking out a 1-0 overtime win against the ailing Edmonton Oilers, the Nashville Predators wake up on Black Friday atop the Central Division and among the NHL’s top teams.
That’s quite the feat considering the mixed predictions this team brought into 2014-15, not to mention two straight seasons outside of the playoffs. So how seriously should this team be taken?
Let’s look at some key numbers to ponder that question.
1. They’re strong in possession, but have also been a little lucky – The Oilers carried a notable shot advantage last night, but Nashville won. The Predators have been a quality possession team, yet they’ve also been a little lucky this season.
Nashville’s PDO is 103.3, indicating that the Predators are enjoying more “puck luck” than any team in the NHL.
2. Pekka Rinne has been outstanding – Critics wondering if Rinne is worth $7 million per year are probably a little quieter today, as he’s been fantastic; in a way, his play last night symbolized the starkest difference between Edmonton and Nashville.
Rinne’s on a five-game winning streak and has won nine of his last 10 games. With a sparkling .932 save percentage, he’d be the easy choice if the Vezina was determined today.
3. The best against the West – Another glaring contrast between Edmonton and Nashville: records against the West. Plenty has been said about the Oilers’ inability to beat West teams, but it’s worth mentioning that Nashville has the best record against the best conference.
They are 12-3-2 against the West. Only one other team (Vancouver at 10-5-1) is in double-digits in victories versus West opponents so far in 2014-15.
That’s a fabulous head start, if nothing else.
4. Filip Forsberg could maintain some of his ridiculous momentum – Look, it’s probably unrealistic to expect the 20-year-old to maintain a point-per-game pace all season long.
Still, while his shooting percentage is high (15.4 percent), it’s not so over-the-top that he can’t keep up a nice scoring rate over the next five months. He’s averaging almost three shots per game (65 in 22) and has quality linemates in James Neal and Mike Ribeiro, so the Calder frontrunner has a chance to remain productive.
5. Nashville’s power play has been awful – While a lot of numbers scream “regression” for the Predators, their power play is almost bound to improve.
They’ve only converted on 12.9 percent of their power-play opportunities, which ranks 24th in the NHL. If they can merely bump that number up to “middle of the pack” – certainly not an outrageous thought with Peter Laviolette behind the bench and Shea Weber leading a slew of talented offensive defensemen – they could deal with some of the likely drop-offs they might face.
Overall, it’s tough to imagine Nashville being the cream of the crop in the brutal Central Division by the end of the season, as even today they’re only two points ahead of the St. Louis Blues. They’re stocking up on enough standings points that they could be a playoff team, however … and possibly a dangerous one, in that.