With other teams off to great starts like the Dallas Stars, Montreal Canadiens and New York Islanders, the Nashville Predators haven’t gotten the attention they so richly deserve. Nashville, a surprise division leader for most of last season, is one of the best teams in the league that nobody talks about. Built on defense and goaltending, perhaps they don’t get discussed much because they lack the wow factor that say the Stars bring to the table offensively with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. Or perhaps the fact that the Stars made big changes in the offseason also lends to them receiving more love from the media. However, while the Predators had a quieter offseason than most other contenders, and aren’t as “sexy’ to watch, make no mistake about it, they are for real.
Nashville’s Crazy Defense Depth
Covering the San Jose Sharks over the years, they have always had some high-caliber fire power and an ability to put up 40 shots on a regular basis. Yet despite having the last change being the home team on Wednesday night, the Predators managed to hold the Sharks to just 21 shots on net. Sure, the Hurricanes held the Sharks to the same shot total Saturday night but San Jose played with the lead for the majority of that game. Against the Predators, San Jose was trailing by one goal for the majority of the eventual 2-1 loss. Nashville’s defense is just unbelievably stifling. In fact with their current pairs of Shea Weber and Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis and Seth Jones and Barret Jackman, it is almost impossible to say who is their second or third pair. Behind Weber and Josi, the pairs are really 2A and 2B and few NHL teams can boast that kind of defense depth.
Nashville’s defense in fact may be even better now than it was a few years ago when they still had Ryan Suter. Josi has turned into a heck of a two-way defenseman in his own right and not just because he has been playing with Weber. And when teams do get a few offensive looks against the Predators, well, Nashville has one of the top-5 goaltenders in the world in Pekka Rinne there to stop seemingly everything that comes his way. Over his last three games he has now stopped 70 out the last 74 shots against for a .946 save percentage. Offensively the Predators could still use more fire power but with guys like James Neal, Filip Forsberg, and Mike Ribeiro now in the mix these last couple years, they aren’t that far off from having a top-six capable of scoring with the likes of the other top teams.
Best Opponent San Jose’s Faced Thus Far
While the Sharks were without Logan Couture in Wednesday’s game, the Predators still shut-down a team that is accustomed to creating a lot more offensive chances. There is simply no space for top-end guys to make plays with the way Nashville defends and it is not just the stick positioning and defensive zone awareness, but when they do get the puck away from opponents, each defensive pair has stud puck movers. Weber and Josi are dominant with the puck on their sticks, Ellis and Ekholm are extremely underrated on the breakout and we all know how good Jones is at moving the puck. Jones was the odds on favorite to be selected No. 1 overall in his draft class before falling to fourth overall where the Predators had the easiest decision they will likely ever make with a first round pick.
As for the Sharks, some teal fans will be concerned about dropping this game and falling to 5-4, but you really just have to tip your cap to the Predators for a terrific road game. While the Sharks have played some good teams like the Islanders, Washington Capitals, LA Kings, and New York Rangers, the Predators were by far the toughest opponent San Jose has faced here early on in the season. Granted the Capitals were missing Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom the night the Sharks faced them, but the Kings, Rangers, and Islanders were all at full capacity and neither of those teams looked as dominant defensively as the Predators.