We’re just over the halfway point in the 2015-16 National Hockey League season and the Nashville Predators are hanging onto the last wild-card spot in the Western Conference. Nashville is tied with the Colorado Avalanche with 45 points for that last playoff spot, as of Jan. 11. However, that spot will hopefully be more secure after the Predators made the long-awaited trade to get a number-one center in Ryan Johansen.
Nashville did have to give up a talented young defenseman in Seth Jones, but you have to pay to play. However, I wanted to take a look at how the Predators have done so far this season.
As always, I wanted to gauge the fans’ pulse on how Nashville is doing, and that means the return of the (usually) monthly Preds Poll.
The first month of the 2015-16 season started off much like the opening months of the 2014-15 season. Nashville got off to a fast start with the help of a favorable schedule against some of the lower-level teams.
The special teams and James Neal helped the Predators get off the blocks fast. Roman Josi and Shea Weber were playing like the best defensive pairing in the league. It looked the Predators would fulfill some people’s wishes of winning their first division crown.
Injuries and Inconsistency
Things weren’t as rosy for the Predators in the month of November as the injury bug bit the Predators hard near the end of the month. Black Friday week was a particularly unpleasant one that saw Gabriel Bourque, Paul Gaustad, Miikka Salomaki and Carter Hutton all get injured.
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Let’s also add injuries to Mike Fisher and Colin Wilson and that is a recipe for problems. Wilson had started slow, but he’s a solid skater. The injury to Fisher hurt a lot because he was one of the reasons Neal was doing so well. Fisher is also a veteran presence in the lineup, and steps up for his teammates like he did against the Anaheim Ducks’ Kevin Bieksa.
The great Predators penalty kill also ran into hard times, thanks to the spate of injuries they suffered. Gaustad, Bourque and Fisher were critical parts of the PK and were sorely missed.
It also hasn’t helped that Pekka Rinne hasn’t played up to his lofty standards. A recent article by fellow THW Predators writer Colin Fitts points out these problems.
The 2015-16 season has not been friendly to Rinne, who has a 16-12-6 record, a 2.43 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage in 34 games.
December was a rough month for Rinne and the Predators. While the team was 6-6-3 last month, Rinne went 5-6-2 with a 2.64 GAA and a .907 SV-%. Nashville dropped in the standings to the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
The Predators did have some flashes of brilliance in December against the Rangers, Canadiens and the Wild. However, there have been games where the offense was out to lunch.
Nashville has also struggled in the back-end of back-to-back games as The Tennesseans’s Adam Vingan points out.
The Predators will also drop to 0-5-1 in the second game of back-to-backs this season.
— Adam Vingan (@AdamVingan) January 10, 2016
The most troubling issue for Nashville in the first half was their lack of goals. The Predators suffered a lengthy streak in December, where they didn’t score for three consecutive games. Granted, the losses came at the hands of Sergei Bobrovsky, Henrik Lundqvist and Devan Dubnyk, but it is still troubling.
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Things should get better with the addition of Johansen, but Nashville was shut out on Saturday against the Arizona Coyotes. There has been some real feast-or-famine kind of days for the Predators. A little more consistency would nice.
The Verdict of the Nashville Predators’ First Half
It would be nice for the Predators to have a more secure playoff place, but I still think Nashville is a playoff team. Johansen is still adjusting to his teammates, and general manager David Poile might not be done making moves.
Whatever the case, the Predators need to make a move up the standings or they could be in a dogfight for a playoff spot. I give them a C- for the first half of the season.
What do you think? Vote in the poll and/or leave comments below.
Dan Mount is a Nashville Predators staff writer for The Hockey Writers. You can follow him on Twitter, @DanMountSports.