Time to drop the puck on the 2011-2012 Nashville Predators as the team is in Columbus tonight for the lid lifter against the Blue Jackets. After watching camp and preseason games, I’ve been trying to figure out where this team fits into the difficult Central Division and the hyper-competitive Western Conference.
There seems to be two opinions about this team as you read previews from across the continent. There are the pundits who actually think that losing three players that totaled 30 goals between them in the regular season was a death blow to this team’s offensive chances and the group who think that the Predators youth will be served.
Count me in that second group. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked the players that have moved on, great people, great additions to the community, but it was the right decision for this team to move on… and the proof is on the ice. This team has shown a lethal speed and an uncharacteristic penchant for actually shooting the puck… and for Pred Nation, that is a very good thing.
Looking at the forwards… this corps will score by committee as there is no real sniper in the group. There is plenty of potential and you could see multiple 20+ goal scorers in Niclas Bergfors, Martin Erat, Patric Hornqvist, Sergei Kostitsyn, Colin Wilson and David Legwand. Certainly there is upside potential in a Jordin Tootoo, who came roaring back after his personal leave in mid-season, and I haven’t even mentioned players like cal O’Reilly, Blake Geoffrion and Craig Smith. Offensively, this team will be better than they were last year.
The blueline is a cause for celebration, and a cause for concern. The Nashville Predators have the best defense pairing in the league with Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. Two more d men with solid upsides in Jon Blum and Kevin Kline and a younger vet in Jack HIllen, should Francis Bouillon return in good form, the defense is in pretty good shape. This should give players like Mattias Ekholm time to develop a bit, and not force the Predators to rush Ryan Ellis.
The blueline is stronger… but the goaltending situation is stronger. Pekka Rinne is finally getting attention outside of Nashville, coming into the season as a favorite to win the Vezina and Anders Lindback continues to work his game as the number two. It is an enviable situation that most franchises would love to be in.
I have three keys to this season for the Predators…
1. A Fast Start
– Nashville’s October and early November consists of two western trips, one to Canada and one to the US West Coast. Eight games that will be important for the Preds to establish themselves. The first two games of the season are also important divisional games.
2. Divisional Stretch
– Starting Jan. 19 the Predators have a interesting little stretch of divisional games, four consecutive, and five out of seven. A successful run in these sets the team up to challenge for the division title.
3. Contract Years
– Of the 23 man roster that begins the season. 14 members of the team are in contract years, four UFA’s (Suter, Tootoo, Bouillon and Rinne) and ten RFA’s (Kostitsyn, Wilson, Geoffrion, O’Reilly, Bergfors, Weber, Blum, Laakso, Hillen and Lindback). That’s a lot of players playing for new contracts and could work in Nashville’s favor.
Predators GM David Poile has been referring to the Cup window being open in Nashville. If it is, this needs to be the year to make a big run. My prediction for the team? Second in the division, 5th in the conference, 104 points.
It all gets started tonight.
Tonight’s game at Nationwide is the first time that these Central Division rivals have started the season against each other. Nashville has been dominant over the Blue Jackets, going 10-5-2 at Columbus since 2006-07. Columbus has added some big names, big talent, and big salaries in an attempt to get back to the playoffs. The Blue Jackets got off to a torrid start last season, going 14-6-0 in their first 20 games, but then faded to a 20-29-13 pace to finish the season just below .500 at 34-35-13.
Not sure how it is going to work this year, but one thing is clear. The Blue Jackets have to have goaltender Steve Mason back up to his rookie year form. A key stat for Mason is shots. He went 16-6-4 when facing 30 or more shots last season, when facing less than 30 he was 8-15-3.
Game time is 6pm central… coverage on Fox Sports Tennessee and 102.5 the Game. Keep an ear out during the game as there is a busload of rather loud Pred Heads on a bus heading up to Columbus as I write this.
- Nashville is 6-6-0 in season openers, however, they have won five of their last seven and their last two.
- Refs for tonight’s game are Stephen Walkom and Stephane Auger.
- Saw a Tweet last night stating that it was weird seeing Steve Sullivan play for Pittsburgh… sure was.
- Nice ceremony last night at TD Garden a tad long, but very well done.
- Big win for Toronto last night, goaltender James Reimer looked excellent in net. Congrats to Matthew Lombardi who had the game winner, scoring short handed.
You are invited to follow me on Twitter. Search for @PredPAPaul… Not only will I be updating when I get news or updates, but we are having a bit of fun by getting your input on Gnash introductions, weigh in on Twitter and who knows, we may use your introduction for the best mascot in the NHL at the next Preds game!
The season premier of SlaShot Radio was a roaring success on our new home, 102.5 the Game! We did our NHL annual preview show featuring Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek and legendary Pittsburgh Penguin play by play man Mike Lange. Then Pete, Charlie and I previewed the Preds.
Wait what? You say you were spinning around the wrong places on the dial… you missed it???
Not to worry… the podcast is posted on the SlapShot Radio website.
to subscribe via iTunes or RSS…
SlapShot Radio is on every Wednesday night at 6 on 102.5 the Game.