the night a few days before Christmas when all through the league, teams saw the Predators surging and let out their screams. Nashville put the puck in the net with great care, in hopes that the Stanley Cup would soon be theirs. Opposing forwards have no chance they said, while visions of Pekka Rinne saving their shots danced in their heads.
With the incredible start so far, there is no question that the Predators have found themselves on the nice list this year. The boost provided by acquiring Kyle Turris from the Ottawa Senators has served as a catalyst for Nashville’s rise up not only the Central Division standings but towards the top of the league.
The Turris trade should have been enough to make the Predators happy, but since they’ve been so good this year we take a look at three things they should want for Christmas.
The Return of Ryan Ellis
During the 2016-17 season, Ryan Ellis posted career numbers with 38 points (16 goals and 22 assists) and a plus-17 rating. Then Nashville pulled off the unthinkable in the playoffs and rode the wave of confidence after sweeping Chicago in the first round to make it to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup Final. Here, Ellis scored the third most points on the team with five goals and eight assists and even had a seven-game point streak.
— Day to Day Sports (@DTDHockey) May 3, 2017
At some point in the Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, Ellis suffered a knee injury but continued to play until the final horn of the season. He would ultimately be ruled out for approximately four-to-six months, putting a major dent in the Predators’ impressive top-four defensive unit. Ellis’ injury would result in the signing of Alexei Emelin to pick up the slack until Ellis returned, and has worked out pretty decent so far.
The Predators defense hasn’t suffered terribly without Ellis as Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, and Mattias Ekholm sitting at fourth, six, and seventh on the team in points, respectively. It’s scary to think how good Nashville’s team will become once Ellis returns; however, one has to wonder how seamlessly transitioning Ellis back in will go given how well the team has played without him.
Playoff Home-ice Advantage
In the last two seasons, the Predators have snuck into the playoffs at the last second, finding themselves lacking home-ice advantage. In 2016, Nashville forced their first Game 7 in franchise history against the Anaheim Ducks in which they ultimately won and then lost a Game 7 against the San Jose Sharks. It’s hard to speculate, but had the Predators played that game at home it’s possible that the result would have changed.
In the 2017 playoffs, the Predators again found themselves lacking home-ice advantage, although when they were playing at home they gained the national spotlight because of the fans and their efforts when playing in Bridgestone Arena. Said former captain Mike Fisher, “They’ve just done an unbelievable job in the playoffs. We feel that it helps us, there’s no question, on and off the ice. Tonight, you saw it. It was unbelievable.”
Out of 22 total playoff games, eleven were played in Nashville with the Predators only losing two games at home – Game 4 against the Ducks in the second round and the Penguin’s Cup-clinching Game 6. Interestingly, Bleacher Report notes that in 2013, “the team with home-ice advantage has won 13 of the last 17 Stanley Cup Final series.” After becoming road warriors last season, the Predators could benefit greatly from a home-ice advantage in the playoffs.
Continued Central Division Slow Down
At an early point in the season, the Predators sat second-to-last in the Central Division while the St. Louis Blues, and to a lesser extent the Winnipeg Jets, got off to a fast start to stand alone atop the division for some time. Since mid-November when the Predators acquired Turris, they have been soaring to new heights while the Blues and the Jets cooled off.
In their last ten games, the Blues have been less-than-stellar posting a 5-4-1 record and are currently riding a two-game losing streak. Star defenseman Alex Pietrangelo recently returned from an injury suffered in early December partly contributing to the recent slide. Another devastating blow to the Blues was the recent loss of Jaden Schwartz, who is second on the team in scoring and could further push the Blues down the standings.
The early success of the usually underappreciated Jets is probably one of the more surprising storylines in the Central Division. The Jets have been performing comparably to the Blues with a 5-4-1 in their last ten as well, but the big difference is that they are on a two-game winning streak. The Predators will see the Jets three more times this season and would prefer not to get into a duel for the top spot in the Central.