One of the more stunning starts to the 2016-17 NHL season was just how flat the Nashville Predators looked coming out of the gate.
A team that was a Stanley Cup favorite entering training camp (some people — like me — even picked them to win it all!), the Predators managed to win only two of their first eight games and did not resemble the team that was a Game 7 away from reaching the Western Conference Final last season. Over the past week, however, the Predators have started to inch their way back into things and have managed to pick up six out of a possible eight points in their past four games.
When it comes to the Predators’ recent improvement in the standings it is worth pointing out that the schedule has kind of softened up a bit for them over the past couple of weeks. All four games have come against non-playoff teams from a year ago, and they did earn points in two of those games by losing in shootouts.
Things get a little tougher on Thursday when the St. Louis Blues head into Nashville for a Central Division showdown.
But there are still a lot of positives to be taken away from that stretch if you are a Predators fan.
One thing that has to be encouraging is that they are not only starting to collect some points in the standings, but their overall play seems to be on the rise.
Early in the year their defense, thought to be one of the best in the NHL, was giving up a ton of shots while the team itself getting badly beaten in the possession game and found itself near the bottom of the league through the end of October. That represented a massive drop from a year ago when they were one of the best possession teams in the league. It was a stunning fall considering how much of the roster remained the same and the fact they added a player like P.K. Subban to the blue line. But things are starting to change for the better.
Over their past four games they have held teams to under 30 shots per game, have not allowed more than two goals during regulation or overtime, and have been a 53 percent possession team. It’s still a small sampling, but it’s an encouraging one because they are starting to get back to the levels they were at a year ago.
It also has to be somewhat encouraging that they have been able to tread water in the West (they are only two points out of a playoff spot on Thursday while having played just 12 games) without any of their top scorers really starting to take off yet.
Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg, for example, have combined for just one goal so far this season. That’s not going to continue. Even the best goal scorers in the league can be prone to lengthy scoring droughts during a season, and the Predators happened to have their two best hit one at the exact same time to open the year.
The defense was always too talented to keep giving up more than 35 shots per game.
Even though the schedule gets a bit tougher on Thursday with a deep, talented Blues team coming into Nashville they are still getting a bit of a break with the schedule given that St. Louis just played a tough overtime game on Wednesday night against Chicago, while the Predators were resting. They will also be facing a backup goaltender when Carter Hutton gets the call for the Blues.
The Predators are not all the way back yet, and Thursday will be a good test for them against one of the top teams in the Western Conference, but things are starting to look up after a pretty disappointing start.