The Nashville Predators got off to a very good start in October. The Preds finished the opening month with a 7-1-2 record in the very tough Central Division.
Nashville has played to its strengths in the first month of the season with defense and goaltending, but it also showed that its power play was much improved from the unit that struggled in its first year under Peter Laviolette in 2014-15.
However, there are a few concerns as the Predators finally take on some of their divisional foes. Nashville has struggled mightily on face-offs as it’s at the bottom of the 30-team league with a 45.6-percent winning rate. Only fourth-line center Paul Gaustad has really had success at the dot.
So how in this mostly good start to the season, how do Predators fans grade the month of October.
Nashville got off the gate quickly by getting points in all, but one game in October. (The 4-3 loss on October 15 to the New York Islanders where the Predators blew a two-goal lead.) The first few games should the Nashville defense stifling opponents with its trademark great defense and Pekka Rinne in net.
The Predators defense suffocated opponents as it held teams to less a goal or less fives times in the opening month of the season. Granted, the opening part of the schedule was pretty easy with Carolina, Edmonton and New Jersey. However, there were some impressive performances against Anaheim and San Jose.
The Preds did dominate the Ducks in the 5-1 win on Oct. 22, but also showed they could win a game where the opposition took it to them like the Sharks did at the SAP Center.
Nashville has also been winning different types of games and not just the defensive slugfests that they’ve been known for. They’ve been in some up-and-down games with plenty of goals. The game against the defending Eastern Conference-champion Tampa Bay Lightning showed the Predators bounce back from a bad second period and late third-period deficit. If a team wants to make a deep run, they’ll have to find a way to win all types of games.
The top two lines were touted as being the team’s best coming into the season, but it’s been a team effort so far this season. I’ve talked about the great play of the fourth line from the face-off play of Gaustad, Eric Nystrom already with three goals and Austin Watson finding his way by being a solid two-way player with his physical play.
Let’s also not forget the great play of the special teams. The power play looks like it’s finally starting to click after a year in the wilderness. It all started in the preseason, but it has carried over to the regular season. Roman Josi and Shea Weber have been great at the point with Josi’s fluid passing and Weber’s booming slap shot.
It’s also good to see James Neal thrive like he did with the Pittsburgh Penguins, as he scored seven goals and really seemed to make a connection with center Mike Fisher. If Neal can keep it up, the Predators might be able stay in games against the Central Division opponents.
It’s not all sunshine though for the Predators in October. There were a couple of times were the team blew leads and ended up losing games. (The loss to the Islanders again sticks out.) A team in the lead has to have the “Predator-y” instinct and be able to finish off a team when you get them down.
The face-off situation is one of the biggest red flags for the team. The club is dead-last in the league and a full percentage point behind the 29th-place team, the Calgary Flames. Gaustad has done a ton of the heavy lifting, but the real concern is Mike Ribeiro. I used this tweet from my colleague Colin Fitts before, but it sums up his troubles at the dot.
Face-offs are an important part of the game
It may not have been the perfect start like the Montreal Canadiens had, but I’m sure Predators fans will be happy with the way things have broken for them so far. Things will be tough in the division, but a 7-1-2 month of October is a good step in what hopefully could see the team play into May or June.
Dan Mount is a Nashville Predators staff writer for The Hockey Writers. You can follow him on Twitter, @DanMountSports. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.