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Predators are red-hot, but there are some red flags

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At a quick glance, the Nashville Predators leading the NHL with 24 standings points makes total sense. After all, we’re talking about the deep, well-built reigning Presidents’ Trophy winners, and all the widely-mocked banners that come with it.

In defeating the Colorado Avalanche 4-1 to close out Wednesday’s NBCSN doubleheader, the Predators displayed a mix of the unexpected (Colton Sissons generating a hat trick) with what’s becoming run-of-the-mill (an explosive offense going cold against Pekka Rinne). Nashville’s show has been traveling better than the circus so far in 2018-19, as their 12-3-0 overall record is buoyed by a perfect 7-0-0 mark on the road.

Everything’s going to plan, right?

So far, sure, but there are some red flags to at least monitor. Let’s take a deeper look at the Predators’ impressive start.

Red-hot Rinne

Rinne’s been ridiculous lately, including only allowing one basically unstoppable goal in the two games since signing a two-year extension with the Predators.

You can see how great Rinne’s been whether you look at simpler numbers (a remarkable .949 save percentage this season) or you dig a little deeper. From last season through this early stretch, he sports the eighth-best save percentage against high-danger scoring chances, via Corsica Hockey. You know Rinne’s on fire when he’s outpacing John Gibson and Jaroslav Halak this season, as you can see from Sean Tierney’s handy chart for Goals Saved Against Average, one of the more respected fancy stats for goalies:

For quite some time, analytics-minded people viewed Rinne as one of the league’s most overrated goalies. The argument was that the Predators provided a cocoon for the big Finn to rack up easy wins and starts, particularly when Barry Trotz’s system was at its stingy peak.

Rinne’s becoming a tougher goalie to knock, especially if inevitable jokes about the postseason are mitigated by the notion that plenty of great netminders stumble in the small sample pressure cooker of the playoffs.

If Rinne was dependent upon the team and system around him before, now I wonder if the Predators are asking too much of their veteran starter (and up-and-comer Juuse Saros).

Regression looming?

So far, the Predators lead the NHL with a +20 goal differential, as they’ve scored 51 while only allowing 31. That’s impressive, yet you wonder if Nashville’s luck could run out, possibly in troubling ways.

Via Natural Stat Trick’s numbers, the Predators have enjoyed the fifth-highest shooting percentage at even-strength (9.63-percent) and the second-best save percentage (95.18), translating to a 1.048 PDO that screams “unsustainable.”

Generally, their possession stats have been middling, and appear eerily familiar to their old, struggling buddies, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Some formulas place them very much in the middle of the pack, and you can simplify things by merely noting that they’re barely generating more shots on goal (30.9 per game) than they’re giving up (30.2).

Now, it’s not all bad, as they’ve been a top-10 team at preventing high-danger scoring chances, and none of the numbers seem outright disastrous. They don’t need to panic.

Still, these red flags should at least provide some caution, rather than inspiring the hot-starting team to rest on its laurels.

For instance, the Predators could conceivably withstand a dip in luck at 5-on-5 if they can work out what’s become a gnawing issue.

Power up that power play

It says a lot about Nashville’s strengths (and luck) that they’ve managed this 12-3-0 record despite a pitiful power-play percentage of 13, the fourth-worst efficiency rate in the NHL.

That number – if not ranking – should climb with time, even if the Predators make few adjustments. Colton Sissons’ hat-trick goal came on the power play during Wednesday’s win, for instance.

While the Predators are almost certain to get more bounces on the man advantage, it’s up to Peter Laviolette and his coaching staff to find ways to put Nashville’s power play in better situations to create and take advantage of said bounces.

Improving Nashville’s power play could be as much about massaging egos as anything else.

A deep defense that can create offense as readily as it can defuse threats makes for a splendid advantage for the Predators … most of the time. Still, having P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and to a lesser (offensive) extent Mattias Ekholm means that there’s likely pressure to run the PP through defense too often.

Looking at Tyler Dellow’s breakdown of power plays at The Athletic (sub required), you can see that the Predators:

  • Are among the team’s most likely to go with a less-explosive alignment of three forwards and two defensemen instead of four forwards and one defenseman.
  • They rank among the teams that have defensemen shooting the most often.
  • Their power play has been ineffective by many metrics.

Again, the Predators are likely to see gains just by way of puck luck rebounding, but Laviolette will probably need to make some key adjustments if Nashville wants its power play to be a greater advantage.

***

Look, the Predators often pass the “eye test,” and it’s early November, so they have plenty of time to make tweaks.

A better power play could also offset at least some of the drop-off that is likely to come from Rinne occasionally seeming human and that high shooting percentage cooling off.

Still, the Predators aren’t aiming to just be “fine.” This team has Stanley Cup aspirations, so they should pay at least some mind to weaknesses – there were worries about relying too much on Rinne last season, too – and should also take advantage of this buffer in the standings by experimenting with different strategies.

Nashville has been aggressive about improving over the years, and it’s paid off. Staying vigilant could mean the difference between another playoff letdown and truly sticking with the NHL’s absolute best.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Predators visit Avalanche on Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Wednesday night’s matchup between the Nashville Predators and Colorado Avalanche at 10 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

This week’s Wednesday Night Hockey doubleheader wraps up with a rematch from the first-round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs when the Nashville Predators visit the Colorado Avalanche.

It is sure to be an exciting matchup between two top Central Division teams as the Predators roll into the game owning the league’s best points percentage (22 points in 14 game) and best goal differential (plus-17). After reaching the Stanley Cup Final two years ago and then coming back a year ago to win the Presidents’ Trophy the Predators are once again on track to be one of the best teams in the NHL and a top-tier Stanley Cup contender.

The Avalanche, meanwhile, are doing their best to show that their surprise playoff appearance (after completing an incredible one-year turnaround in the standings) was no fluke. They enter play on Wednesday in one of the two Wild Card spots in the Western Conference and just one point back of Minnesota for the second spot in the Central Division.

They boast the NHL’s third-best goal differential (plus-12) and one of the NHL’s top lines with the trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog leading the way. Rantanen entered Wednesday as the league’s leading scorer with 24 points, two points ahead of Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid. MacKinnon is third in the scoring race with 21 points while Landeskog is 12th with 18 total points. His 11 goals are tied for the second most.

Puck drop in Colorado is 10 p.m. ET.

[WATCH LIVE – 10 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Nashville Predators at Colorado Avalanche
Where: Pepsi Center
When: Wednesday, November 7th, 10 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Predators-Avalanche stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

PREDATORS

Filip ForsbergRyan JohansenRyan Hartman
Calle JarnkrokKyle TurrisCraig Smith
Frederick GaudreauNick BoninoKevin Fiala
Zac RinaldoColton SissonsMiikka Salomaki

Roman JosiRyan Ellis
Mattias EkholmP.K. Subban
Anthony BitettoYannick Weber

Starting Goalie: Pekka Rinne

AVALANCHE
Gabriel Landeskog – Nathan MacKinnon – Mikko Rantanen
Sheldon Dries – Alexander KerfootColin Wilson
Matt NietoCarl SoderbergMatt Calvert
Gabriel BourqueVladislav KamenevMarko Dano

Patrik NemethErik Johnson
Ian ColeSamuel Girard
Nikita ZadorovTyson Barrie

Starting goalie: Semyon Varlamov

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

WATCH LIVE: Golden Knights visit Predators on NBCSN

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the Vegas Golden Knights and the Nashville Predators at 8 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

Vegas started slowly out of the gate losing four of their first five games, but seem to have righted the ship by going 4-1-1 in their last six games. Including this game in Nashville, six of their next seven games are on the road where they are 2-3-0 this season.

Meanwhile, the Predators won seven of their first eight games to start the season, but have now dropped two of their last three. Their rough patch could continue into November, as Nashville has a difficult upcoming schedule, including a west coast road trip

Reigning Vezina Trophy winner Pekka Rinne has missed the last four games with an undisclosed injury. He has been practicing with the team, but has yet to be activated off IR. Rinne, who will turn 36 on Saturday, left in a win over Calgary on Oct. 19 shortly after colliding with Kevin Fiala. Predators GM David Poile said the netminder is close to returning. Juuse Saros will start on Tuesday.

The Golden Knights will start Malcolm Subban in net, which will make for a nice sub-plot as he faces off against his brother, P.K.

[WATCH LIVE – 8 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Vegas Golden Knights at Nashville Predators
Where: Bridgestone Arena
When: Tuesday, October 30th, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Golden Knights-Predators stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

GOLDEN KNIGHTS
Jonathan MarchessaultWilliam KarlssonReilly Smith
Tomas HykaErik HaulaAlex Tuch
Ryan CarpenterCody EakinTomas Nosek
William CarrierPierre-Edouard BellemareRyan Reaves

Brayden McNabbColin Miller
Shea TheodoreDeryk Engelland
Jon MerrillNick Holden

Starting goalie: Malcolm Subban

PREDATORS
Filip ForsbergRyan JohansenViktor Arvidsson
Calle JarnkrokKyle TurrisCraig Smith
Ryan Hartman – Nick Bonino – Kevin Fiala
Miikka Salomaki / Frederick GaudreauColton SissonsZac Rinaldo / Rocco Grimaldi

Roman JosiRyan Ellis
Mattias EkholmP.K. Subban
Matt IrwinYannick Weber

Starting goalie: Juuse Saros

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Filip Forsberg is a bigger star than many realize

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the Vegas Golden Knights and the Nashville Predators at 7 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

Injuries don’t just deprive us of the opportunity to see great players in action. They also tend to downplay just how dominant certain scorers are, as point totals shrink when you miss, say, 20 games.

Evgeni Malkin stands as a strong example of that phenomenon. As great as he is, would Malkin have been left of the NHL 100 list if he hadn’t been on the shelf so often?

Such thoughts come to mind when you consider Filip Forsberg‘s ascent with the Nashville Predators.

[Previewing tonight’s Predators – Golden Knights game]

Approaching elite production

If you just glance at last season’s 64 points, you might shrug your shoulders and think that it was business as usual. After all, Forsberg scored 63 in 2014-15, 64 in 2015-16, and 58 in 2016-17.

The difference, of course, is that Forsberg scored last season’s 64 points in just 67 games, leaving him close to a point per night. The Swedish sensation carried that strong work into the Predators’ overall-slightly-disappointing run in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, generating 16 points in 13 games.

It’s not just about impressive numbers with Forsberg, who is currently tied for second in goals with 10, and has 14 points in 11 games this season.

It’s the fact that Forsberg scores highlight reel goals, and has the courage to make unthinkable moves in high-pressure situations. His game-breaking ability can bring fans out of their seats and make defenders look outright foolish:

Since last season, Forsberg has exactly 78 points in 78 games; his (exact) point-per-game rate during that span matches Patrick Kane and Mark Scheifele. We’re approaching a moment where it’s fair to wonder if Forsberg’s making a leap from star to superstar.

Now, granted, the winger isn’t going to score almost a goal per game all season.

As talented as he is, Forsberg’s shooting percentage (25 percent, or 10 goals on just 40 shots on net) is bound to slip. Considering his career average of 13.1 percent, it may even slip by half.

Even so, it’s plausible that Forsberg is ascending among the NHL’s most potent wingers.

Help from his friends

It’s also worth noting that the Predators’ top line might just be able to hang with the other elite groups. Forsberg is joined by another volume shooter in Viktor Arvidsson, who has 28 SOG in 11 games (generating seven goals and 11 points). Arvidsson won’t continue his 25 shooting percentage either, yet he’s likely to continue making an impact on games; the Swedish jitterbug is currently in the middle of a five-game streak where he’s generated at least 3 SOG.

One pivotal factor in Forsberg’s climb toward more recognition is the play of Ryan Johansen, and his hot start might be the most promising sign of all … well, beyond the fact that Forsberg’s absolutely unleashing the puck so far this season.

Johansen carries an $8 million cap hit, yet he hasn’t always received plaudits for his work as a top center.

(For instance: Ryan Kesler‘s BFF didn’t land on Andrew Berkshire’s top 23 centers list heading into this season, falling behind the likes of Derek Stepan.)

So far, Johansen’s been off to a strong scoring start, collecting two goals and 13 points in 11 games.

It’s natural for Johansen to shoot less often than trigger-happy wingers like Forsberg and Arvidsson, yet he drew some criticism for being pass-first to a fault. The past two seasons were tough in that regard, with Johansen averaging a meager 1.63 SOG per game last season, and a not-much-better 1.88 SOG per contest in 2016-17.

This is a small sample size, but so far, Johansen has 23 SOG in 11 games. While that’s not an enormous uptick, this line gets scarier if Johansen isn’t telegraphing passes, and they’re combining for more than eight SOG per game between the three of them.

Shouldering a burden

It’s tempting to look at the Predators as a deep team at all levels.

The label is accurate for a defense featuring P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm. It says a lot about what the team’s built that Vezina winner Pekka Rinne can go on IR and few really panicked, as Juuse Saros is a gem in net. It also doesn’t hurt that hit-or-miss second-line center Kyle Turris is off to a promising start (eight points in 11 games).

Such factors distract from how crucial Forsberg and Nashville’s top line is to their success, though.

With Kevin Fiala going through early season struggles, the Predators’ offense depends upon that top line, that elite fleet of defense, and sporadic scoring (Turris, Ryan Hartman, few others). It makes you wonder why Eeli Tolvanen isn’t getting more immediate opportunities, but that’s a discussion for another day.

That tend is really just carrying over from the postseason, as Turris and Nick Bonino really failed to give Nashville the sort of supplementary scoring that contenders usually need. One can see the temptation of even spreading the wealth, although that would most likely qualify as messing with a good thing.

***

As strange as it might sound considering GM David Poile’s many great recent trades, a bigger-picture look at the Predators makes you wonder if another bold move could be in order.

On the bright side, there’s mounting evidence that Nashville’s top trio is for real, with Forsberg leading the way.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Winning streaks on the line as Predators host Sharks

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the San Jose Sharks and the Nashville Predators at 8 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

Pekka Rinne is on injured reserved, opening the door for Juuse Saros to take the reins as the starting goalie for the Predators. When Nashville hosts the Sharks on Tuesday, it’ll be the first time that the 23-year-old netminder will have started consecutive games in his young NHL career.

Saros has 46 starts in his career, and working with Rinne for the past couple of seasons has provided him plenty of confidence to handle an extended workload when called up.

“Juuse is very calm,” said Predators head coach Peter Laviolette via the Tennessean. “He’s got a great guy to sit next to him in the room in Pekka. Approaches life the same way. They lead with their work ethic.”

As the Predators look to extend their five-game winning streak, they’ll face a Sharks team have won two in a row and scored nine goals over their last two games. Logan Couture has scored four of those nine goals and is one of the bevy of weapons that head coach Peter DeBoer can deploy every night.

[Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

WHAT: San Jose Sharks at Nashville Predators
WHERE: Bridgestone Arena
WHEN: Tuesday, October 23rd, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVESTREAM: You can watch the Sharks-Predators stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

SHARKS
Evander KaneJoe PavelskiKevin Labanc
Tomas Hertl – Logan Couture – Timo Meier
Marcus SorensenAntti SuomelaJoonas Donskoi
Barclay GoodrowRourke ChartierMelker Karlsson

Marc-Edouard VlasicErik Karlsson
Joakim RyanBrent Burns
Brenden DillonJustin Braun

Starting goalie: Martin Jones

[WATCH LIVE – 8 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

PREDATORS
Filip ForsbergRyan JohansenViktor Arvidsson
Kevin FialaKyle TurrisCraig Smith
Calle JarnkrokNick BoninoRyan Hartman
Zac RinaldoColton SissonsFrederick Gaudreau

Roman JosiRyan Ellis
Mattias EkholmP.K. Subban
Dan HamhuisYannick Weber

Starting goalie: Juuse Saros

MORE: Rusev and Lana turn Predators stars into WWE superstars