It’s no secret that the Nashville Predators play in the best division in hockey in the Central. There are at least playoff-caliber teams in the division and even the last-place Colorado Avalanche have showed signs of life in games. Every team has a threat to win on any night.
The importance of divisional play goes up even more since the change in the playoff format for the the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs where the top three teams in each division are guaranteed a spot. That means there may be cases where a team in the Central Division might have more points than someone in the Pacific Division, but could be on the outside looking of the playoff picture.
If one takes a look at the divisional standings as of Nov. 13, the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks currently stand in sixth place in the division and would miss out on postseason berth. However, one would be quite foolish to bury the champs because they’ve risen fromt he dead before.
The difference between the first-place Dallas Stars (26) and the fifth-place Blackhawks (17) is nine points. Second (St. Louis Blues) through fifth (Winnipeg Jets) is five. Nashville currently sits in fourth, but there is the potential for lots of movement.
The Predators don’t really get deep into lots of divisional games until December, but there are two important games against Central foes Winnipeg (Nov. 14) and Minnesota (Nov. 21). With the division shaping up like a fight, every game against intradivision rivals will be that much more important.
The Point is Points
A win is worth two points no matter who the opposition is, but the weight of getting two points against a team from the Central is heavier. It’s points that Nashville gets, but it’s also two (or one if the Predators get an overtime or shootout victory) points that the other team won’t be getting.
The term “six pointer” has been tossed around in European soccer for teams that are close to each other in the standings. It describes the potential on how a team can get separation or get close depending on who wins. Nashville’s Central games will be four-pointers because of how quick the standings can change.
A win Saturday against Winnipeg would have Nashville leapfrog Minnesota and tie them with St. Louis in second for the moment. It’s early, but points count the same in November as they do in March or April.
It’s more than likely if the Predators make the playoffs that they’ll be facing someone from their own division. Nashville knows better than anyone how important it is to get home-ice and the matchup it wants. Late last season saw the Predators in great position most of the season to take on one of the wild card teams, but a late-season swoon caused them to drop into second and eventually lose to the Blackhawks in the opening round.
All of the teams that Nashville could face in the postseason are going to be tough, but it would be nice for them to have home-ice and matchup that might be desirable. The Bridgestone Arena is a tough place to play and I’m sure the Predators would like to have more games there than less.
Getting an Edge
Division wins not only get two points and a better place in the standings for Nashville, but it could also give them a psychological edge. I know the playoffs are a whole different animal as opposed to the regular season, but it can get into a team’s head if they sweep the season series or have a really lopsided record.
It also would boost the Predators confidence to get wins against potential postseason opponents.
The division games are going to be very important this season. I’ve joked that anyone who accurately predicts the Central Division should go to Las Vegas with me for entertainment purposes only. It’s going to be fight to stay in the race all season, and these division games are even more important this season than ever before.