It is safe to say that the Nashville Predators have been one of the more impressive teams to start the 2021-2022 NHL season. A team that just sold off significant pieces of their previous core now finds themselves in the thick of the playoff race, as their 39 points are good enough for tenth place in the league standings, and second in the Central division.
While the Predators have been a huge surprise, it is not totally stunning that they are in the position that they are in. When you think about their lineup from top to bottom, they actually have a pretty good team.
The top line of Filip Forsberg, Mikael Granlund, and Matt Duchene has been on fire and is honestly playing about as well as any in franchise history. Their most highly touted youngsters in Eeli Tolvanen and Philip Tomasino are getting better by the day, and the depth, which includes the much-beloved “herd” line, is strong.
The defense, led by Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm, is still one of the best in the league with three effective pairings. As for the goaltending, Juuse Saros is reaching elite status faster and faster and is even hotter than he was to start the season.
When you look at the Predators roster, they do not quite have a superstar forward, but they are one of the deepest teams in the league. Once Tolvanen and Tomasino hit their stride, that might give them the offense they need to get over the top, which would make them dangerous.
It makes sense that a team like the Predators, at least on paper, is doing as well as they are so far this year. When you look at the games that they have won and lost, that is a different story.
The Predators started playing their best hockey at the very end of the month of October when they had struggled mightily in the few weeks before. Forsberg went out in the first game of November, and without him, they went 6-3-1. When he returned to the lineup, and everyone was healthy, they went 3-3-0
The Predators are on a seven-game winning streak as the season suspension is happening, and aside from the many COVID-related absences, they were dealing with several other missing players at the start of the winning streak. Saros and Ekholm were out with non-COVID illnesses for two games, Duchene has been out since December 10 with an upper-body injury, and Ryan Johansen was the first one on the COVID list before the actual outbreak was confirmed.
It should not be that way at all, and it leaves the question of what this team can truly accomplish when everyone is healthy and playing. They have had some great games and even were on a three-game winning streak before Forsberg got injured in November, but we have yet to see them remain consistent. We need to if they are to sustain their current pace of being a top ten team in the league.
While the three losses in the aforementioned 3-3-0 stretch were the Vegas Golden Knights, Colorado Avalanche, and Boston Bruins, it still showed that the Predators were struggling to keep pace with some of the known best teams in the league. That cannot happen if they are to enter that conversation.
It has been shown that when a team is playing with low expectations, it can be very beneficial, and the Predators are a team that has been proven to thrive with low expectations. But the true test of a team is whether or not they can thrive with heavy expectations and pressure, and they still have to show that they can do that.
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