October is the month of scares and frights, and the Nashville Predators are the midst of a scary stretch.
The Predators are off to a 5-1-0 start through six games this season. The defense was strong for the first few games, but now the offense is led by a red-hot James Neal, who has picked up the slack. The Predators have scored at least three goals since they scored twice in the opening pair of games.
Nashville has only lost once, and that was a game it should’ve had in a 4-3 defeat to the New York Islanders in Brooklyn. That game was the start of a stretch where the Predators take on five straight teams that made the NHL playoffs last season.
However, this is the part of the month that we’ll see if Nashville is an early contender with games against some of the league’s better teams. The test will start Thursday against the defending Pacific Division champion Anaheim Ducks.
Ducks Starting to Fly
The Ducks may not be off to a flying start, but Anaheim can still be dangerous. Some of the Ducks’ troubles can be attributed to their new faces not meshing along with struggles in the defensive end. Carl Hagelin is having a hard time playing with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, and players that are dealing with increased responsibility are still adjusting.
The team struggled offensively as they were shutout twice. There’s been early talk about Bruce Boudreau getting fired, but that was squashed after Anaheim beat the Minnesota Wild.
However, the Ducks have all the tools to bounced back from their bad start. They have two of the best players in the league in Perry and Getzlaf. Frederik Andersen has been good despite the rest of the team’s struggles. Anaheim is a good team that will be in the conversation for the Western Conference title.
On Golden Pens
The Pittsburgh Penguins are also a team that has stumbled out of the gate. Superstar Sidney Crosby took a while to get started before he finally scored his first goal of the season on Tuesday night. Crosby has gone through some cold stretches, but this was the longest of his career. New additions Phil Kessel and Nick Bonino have also had a hard time finding the back of the net.
The Pens’ bad start has been fairly surprising because they went all-in to get Kessel. Him and Evgeni Malkin were projected to terrorize the Eastern Conference.
One positive is the play of Marc-Andre Fleury, who is shedding his reputation of being erratic with his play the past few seasons. As of Oct. 20, Fleury has a .937 save percentage and a 1.82 goals against average so far this season, and has yet to give up more than three goals in a game. Fleury also has a shutout to his name.
Pittsburgh’s offense poses a stiff test to the vaunted Nashville defense. The Predators are going to face some really tough offensive teams if they want to make a move in the division this season. The Penguins may be struggling right now, but they can heat up at any time.
The game will also be a chance to see how the red-hot Neal does against his former team.
National TV Test
The game on Oct. 28, against the San Jose Sharks, will break the string of games against playoff teams, but this game still means a lot. The Sharks have adjusted to life under new head coach Peter DeBoer, and the game will also be the first of four times that the Predators will be on national TV on NBCSN.
The game may be at 9:30 p.m. Eastern time, but hockey fans will get a chance to see Nashville as one of the featured teams. The Predators don’t usually get many chances to be on national television.
The game may hinge on the health of San Jose defenseman Paul Martin. The absence of the blueliner was felt in a 4-0 drubbing by the New York Rangers on Monday. The Sharks’ defense had been doing well in front of Martin Jones, but the speedy Rangers took advantage of that. If Martin is still out, the Nashville wings and defense could speed things up and make a strong showing on national TV.
All teams face tough stretches in their season, but this is a good test to start the season. It’ll be a good gauge to see where the Predators stack up among the best in the league.