Well, this season is only 19 games in and let’s be honest, it hasn’t gone exactly to plan for the Nashville Predators. No one would have imagined that with this roster they would be sitting so low in the division.
For fans, reading coverage and catching up with the team has become punishment at this point. Game recaps are rarely positive, and op-eds are filled with negativity, and that’s no one’s fault but the Predators. The pessimistic analysis is often justified, as Alexander Barclay once said, “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”
The Predators are fighting to stay out of last place in the division, one that consists of the Detroit Red Wings, who are a few seasons – at least – from becoming relevant again, the Chicago Blackhawks, who are supposed to be rebuilding and the Florida Panthers. Okay, the Panthers are looking like a legit team, but they weren’t supposed to be this good. If anything, they were supposed to look more like, well, the Predators.
Nashville is living in the basement of the most relevant statistical categories. Their goals for per game rank 29th, they’re 25th in goals against, their power play sits 21st and their penalty kill is 28th.
So, for a change of pace and possibly for the challenge, let’s look at the positive notes from this season. It’s probably going to be a long year and fans will have a tough time getting through it if they don’t spend a little time focusing on the bright side.
The Predators’ three-game winning streak was supposed to kick things off, but they squandered the opportunity when they lost to the only team lower than them in the standings, the Red Wings. But this is a positive piece, so no more talk about missed opportunities or losing points to the teams you should beat, especially in this shortened season.
Let’s start with the power play. It was mentioned earlier, but it may not be as bad as it seems. Yes, they currently reside in the bottom half of the league in terms of percentage, but that’s largely due to the massive hole they dug for themselves at the beginning of the season. Don’t look now, but the Predators’ power play is actually looking pretty decent.
During their past 12 games, the Predators are converting at a 25.6% success rate. They’ve actually recorded at least one power-play goal in six of their last 10 games, including a goal in the past three straight contests.
The Predators started the season 2-for-28 on the man advantage, which equals 7.1%. So, while they may sit in the category’s bottom-10, it really doesn’t reflect how they’ve been performing recently. Whether it’s changes in personnel on the unit, different strategies, harder work, or all the above, if the Predators can stick to what they’ve been doing lately they could easily turn this disastrous stat line around.
The same could be said of their penalty kill… well sort of. During their past eight games, the Predators have killed off 81% of their penalties, which nearly puts them in the top half of the league for that category. Okay, this may support the argument that you can make statistics say what you want, or as Mark Twain once elegantly put it, “there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” The Predators have played the Red Wings four times during their last eight games, so it’s not clear whether they’re improving, or they’ve just benefitted from playing a team who struggles to score and has a worse powerplay than they do. But for now, if you kind of squint at it, the statistic looks pretty good.
We’ve saved the best for last with this positive. The Predators actually lead the league in a non-ignominious category. They have managed to score 25 third-period goals, which is tied for the league’s best mark. Yes there are two other teams who also have 25 tallies in the final frame, but both squads – the Vancouver Canucks and the Edmonton Oilers – have played a significant amount more games than the Predators, the Oilers playing three more and the Canucks playing five more.
Now the cynics are probably pointing out that the stat may be boosted due to all the times the Predators are trialing going into the third period, which is frequent, 12 times to be precise, so they’re most often chasing the game. But this is something that shows the Predators can score with the league’s best, in perhaps the most clutch regulation period. Scott Hanson and NFL Red Zone fans may even call it the witching hour (or period) because it’s a time where big performances can turn losses into wins.
So, if the Predators can turn the other two-thirds of their game around and they can set themselves up nicely where these third-period goals mean a little more, they could see a big improvement.
It’s hard to see the individual bright spots when a team is sinking like the Predators are. You win as a team and you lose as a team, and rightly so. But among the chaos that is Nashville’s season, Forsberg is having himself a very respectable, or dare we say it, impressive campaign.
The 26-year-old leads the team in scoring by a sizable margin in both goals and overall points. Again, stats like this can be misleading or irrelevant when you’re comparing against a weak field. However, Forsberg is stacking up fairly well against many of his peers across the league. He has 17 points in 19 games. He’s obviously not quite at the point-per-game level, but he’s extremely close.
The Swedish forward is in the NHL’s top-35 for scoring and considering that he’s on a struggling team, it’s all the more impressive.
Watching Forsberg play he shows a determination that many of his teammates may be lacking this year. The players obviously know that the season is slipping away, and they could very easily give up, arguably some have. But the same cannot be said of the Predators’ sniper. He visibly cares. Just watch when he scores a goal to tie the game or get the team within striking distance. He’ll let out what could be described as a roar with the look on his face that screams he’s a man on a mission.
Predators’ goals have been hard to come by this season and doubt sets in every time the team enters the offensive zone. The fans have been burned too many times to think the next offensive rush will be different. But when you see Forsberg button hook curl in the spot he loves to set up from on the righthand side of the ice and release what has become known as the “twisted wrister” in Predators circles, you can’t help but sit up and take notice.
Forsberg is a good – bordering on a great – player, and despite the Predators looking like the team version of dazed Mike Tyson, searching for his mouth guard on the canvas after being knocked down by Buster Douglas, the former first-round pick is still operating at a high level.
As mentioned, it’s difficult to find bright spots with the Predators this year. They’re in this position because many of the individual statistical performances have been lacking. But you have to give credit to Granlund for the season he’s having. He may not be producing as he did in Minnesota while playing for the Wild, but remember he sunk so low that many questioned whether the team should even want him back this season. He’s certainly playing much better now, possibly even silencing critics.
It would’ve been really easy, if you’re Granlund, to chalk the past season and a half up to a new environment, the different team dynamic, or changes in coaching and hit free agency leaving the Nashville chapter in your playing career behind. However, he didn’t do that, he came back to what must be a challenging situation – evident in his production dip – in the attempts to prove to everybody and maybe even himself that he can still play quality hockey. The recently turned 29-year-old is third on the team in scoring and second in goals.
Granlund is another player that looks like he can make things happen whenever he’s on the ice. He has the fourth most shots on the team, he’s second in takeaways during 5v5 play and he has the second-most blocks per 60 minutes among forwards.
No, the Finnish forward is not an elite talent that can propel the Predators out of this funk that they’re in. But he is someone that the team is better off with. Considering the expectations of him coming into the season, having Granlund perform as one of the team’s top-five players is a nice surprise and a welcome one at that.
According to Money Puck, the Predators have a 29.6% chance of making the playoffs, which may be higher than what many may have thought. They have a long way to go in order to turn what could be an unsalvageable season around. So, while watching the Predators stumble through 2021, playing at a level that both confuses and nauseates you, just remember there are a few to fall back on and enjoy. And hey, if all else fails, rest easy in the solace that this season is short, and the Predators have set themselves up for a great shot of winning the draft lottery.