The Nashville Predators lost in the first round of the playoffs to a tough Chicago Blackhawks team that truly went the distance. As some have pointed out, “if Preds fans were told Nashville would make the playoffs but lose in the first round, odds are, many would be okay with that,” a sentiment I generally agree with – from the beginning of the season. After the all star break, however, things started looking different, and expectations were raised.
In an effort to not let my emotions run too amok, I will try to focus on the Predators season as a whole, and not stare down the last two weeks of exhilarating (if, at times, a bit lengthy) hockey with Chicago.
Recent Predators Posts:
[catlist categorypage=”yes” numberposts=3 excludeposts=this]
Predators: Regular Season Leaders, President’s Trophy Candidate
The Predators were strong during the regular season, crazy strong. As recently as March 15, they were tied for first in the league in points, and were first outright on March 10. In fact, the Predators were first in the league for 38 of 186 days, more than 20% of the regular season, not counting often being a few points behind with a few games in pocket. Plus, all of those days came in 2015, when point totals are more meaningful than in the first few weeks of the year.
Of course, President’s Trophy critics will claim that winning the regular season isn’t all its cracked up to be, a notion that has a surprisingly large amount of traction, despite the fact that it is complete bunk. An oft cited number (rather, the only cited number) on the subject is “8/28”. The President’s Trophy has been awarded 28 times (not counting the New York Rangers win this year), and “only” eight of those winners have gone on to win the Stanley Cup, the ultimate goal in hockey. But 8/28 is nearly 29%, not bad numbers, and certainly an improvement on the 1/16=6% teams admitted to the playoffs. I think most teams would be thrilled to have a 29% chance to win the cup anytime before the Stanley Cup finals (and maybe even during the finals too).
Regardless of the special significance of winning the President’s Trophy (this year’s winner, the Rangers, dispatched the Pittsburgh Penguins in five games), the Predators were a top tier regular season team. Could (should) they have done more in the postseason?
Pekka Rinne: Savior or Disappointment?
Okay, I love Pekka Rinne. My first article here on THW suggested benching the goalie through much of the rest of the regular season. Don’t worry, I’m not naive enough to be about to claim that if head coach Peter Laviolette had listened to me, the Preds might have a new series to look forward to right now. But his struggles down the stretch of the regular season sent Nashville into the playoffs on a six game losing streak, and in second place to face Chicago as opposed to potentially the Wild (who did upset St. Louis in what has been a remarkable turnaround for Minnesota in the second half of this season) or the Jets who were easily swept out of the playoffs by Anaheim.
Pekka Rinne’s numbers this year (0.923 SV% and 2.18 GAA) are the second best of his career in each after the 2010-11 season when the Predators lost in the second round of the playoffs. Before his injury on January 13 this year, his numbers were even more stellar: 0.930 SV% and 1.99 GAA. After missing several weeks, those numbers tumbled to 0.908 SV% and 2.52 GAA through the rest of the regular season (including the playoff series doesn’t help).
Blame Where Blame is Due
Can all the blame be dumped on his shoulders? Should it be? Each of you can dump your blame where you like. Shea Weber missed most of the playoffs due to a knee injury that sounds like I should either be thinking about my knees more or less.
Shea Weber sustained a "subluxed kneecap." His recovery is four to six weeks.
— Adam Vingan (@AdamVingan) April 27, 2015
It is also unclear how coach Peter Laviolette, who put together such an amazing season for Nashville in his first of what I hope are many years coaching here, let his team fall apart at the end of the season.
After reviewing a season just days after it ended while other teams still get to play, now is the time to look forward. These problems seem largely fixable. Weber’s knee will be fine, along with the host of other injuries players played through. Laviolette knows what he is doing. In fact, it is truly remarkable that he put together such a stellar Predators season in the first year Barry Trotz wasn’t coaching. I think Pekka Rinne can address some of his problems. In fact, he had flashes of brilliance during the playoffs (those OT games were probably at least as brutal on him as they were on the fans) that he was known for. The Predators have all the pieces that they need to succeed with a deep playoff run. While it eluded them this season, they should be just as potent next season with a bit of experience under their belts.