With just 11 games remaining on their schedule before the playoffs it sure looks like Nashville will net the West’s top seed. The first NHL team to clinch a playoff spot this campaign, owner of the league’s best record (47-14-10 and 104 points), and with the sour taste of a Cup Finals loss last year, they seem entering the postseason as the team to beat.
It was a much different story last year with the Predators joining the tourney as the eighth seed and sweeping the West’s top dog Blackhawks before taking down the Blues and Ducks en route to the Finals. What’s changed?
Kevin Fiala’s emergence for one. P.K. Subban’s returned points production, from 40 points after last year’s slow start to a 51-point effort thus far in 2017-18. He saw a lean period from mid-December through mid-February, but on the bookends of that drought Kyle Turris was and has been spectacular. He’s currently on an 11 points in 13 games streak and his contributions immediately after arriving from Ottawa were huge.
Though he’s out for the rest of the regular season with an upper-body injury, Calle Jarnkrok took the next step boosting his points-per-game pace from and 0.38 over the past two campaigns to 0.51 this year. Here is the play that did it:
Here's the hit by Andrew Copp that injured Calle Jarnkrok. pic.twitter.com/fj4Df3LmEH— Evan Sporer (@ev_sporer) March 15, 2018
Even with Ryan Ellis injured early Nashville held it together on defense. Pekka Rinne’s 39-9-4, 2.25, .929 numbers have turned lots of pundits sheepish for predicting the now 35-year-old’s demise prior to last year. Congratulations if you reaped rewards from the above during 2017-18 and are primed for playoff dominance like the Preds. Your best value may have come from Fiala.
While he’s been a top prospect for a while, last year’s 16 points in 51 games and fractured femur may have brought doubt about him in some drafts. He’s compensated the faithful with 23 goals, 22 assists and a healthy 13 power play points. He surely has a shot at 50 points, or perhaps even the mid-50s with a late hot steak before Round One starts.
In 2017-18 thus far Fiala, Turris and a rejuvenated Craig Smith have generated 45 points in 5v5 play when skating together. They’ve also racked up 122 points collectively in all situations as Predators. That’s not quite the 58 points the Forsberg-Johansen-Arvidsson unit has compiled at even strength, nor the 149 they’ve registered in all situations, but it’s a big second-line improvement over their next-best line last year – Jarnkrok, Colin Wilson and James Neal putting up 20 points skating 5v5.
Working with Colton Sissons on the power play, Turris and Fiala have surpassed that total already this campaign with 25 points. Needless to say they are more potent and balanced scoring-wise. Currently seventh in the league with 227 goals, they stand to surpass last year’s 238 goal total.
With recent addition Ryan Hartman and old friend Mike Fisher now in tow, Nashville approaches the postseason with scoring depth to complement their heralded defense, outstanding goaltending, and shoulder chip after faltering in last year’s Finals. Not sure I’d bet against them to take it all.
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