Staking a Central Claim
The Nashville Predators are once again a Western Conference force. Much like last season the month of October has brought fruitful returns. As Pred fans awoke on Sunday a quick glance at the Standings showed the Preds atop the Central with 13 points through 8 games played. This means Week 3 of the Preds season has some success. Let’s run through it.
Tuesday the defending Eastern Conference champion Tampa Bay Lightning brought their skill and speed to test the Nashville team. Of note was the absences of Ryan Ellis and Barret Jackman. The Lightning showed why they are a team to reckon with again this year. James Neal showed that he needs to be contained every night and continued his incredible play over the last week. A back and forth contest that needed OT and a shootout where Filip Forsberg was clinical with his shootout tally to give Nashville a 5-4 win. This game was the epitome of what great hockey can look like. If you didn’t see the highlights find them. Early “Game of the Year” candidate for the Preds.
Thursday was a chance to change some recent history. The Anaheim Ducks have had Nashville’s number for a few seasons. This year the Ducks have started off poorly, even causing some to wonder how much rope their Head Coach Bruce Boudreau will get. The problem for Anaheim has been offense, and the Preds made sure their D would exacerbate those problems. The Ducks were never really in the game while the Preds found scoring on multiple lines finally. A blowout 5-1 win and the Preds earned their first win over the Ducks in Music City since the 2011-2012 season.
2 wins in the books and the Pittsburgh Penguins would close out the week on “Golden Saturday”. The Pens have also had a lackluster start to the year, and entered the game reworking their lines and breaking up the Crosby/Kessel pair. A tight contest which saw the Preds give up the 1st goal for the first time all season, this one stretched into the 3rd period with the Pens up 1-0 until former Pen and Heroic Pred James Neal lit the lamp to tie things at 1. Yet another OT but this one went quick as Kessel scored on an odd man rush helped by Evgeni Malkin tripping Filip Forsberg at the blue line with no penalty called. A 2-1 loss in OT.
Felder’s Fantastic Five (Except #5):
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1. The Heroic James Neal - When the month of October is complete, James Neal will be a huge part of the Preds success. At this point he has periods when he carries this team. This is a new level of confidence, success, and leadership for Neal while in Nashville. It’s the power and finesse game that likely attracted David Poile to trade for Neal in the first place. This level of performance is unlike anything I’ve seen happen in Nashville in quite some time. I can’t wait to see how Neal caps this month off.
2. Depth Scoring - This week the scoring came from everywhere. The Tampa and Anaheim games were the picture of how deadly the Preds can be when clicking on multiple lines. 1st goals of the season came for Mike Fisher, Ryan Ellis, Shea Weber, Mike Ribeiro, Mattias Ekholm, and Colin Wilson. The key to this season will be getting that blend of offense from forwards and defenseman. The success there will drive the results all year long.
3. Goal Differential - The true indicator of how balanced this team is for would be the goal differential right now. A +9 in the West is the best as of Sunday the 25th. The only teams better are in the East with Washington at +11 and the undefeated Canadiens at +23. The Preds have 25 goals for and only 16 goals against. Half of those goals came in 2 games by the way. (NYI & TB) A stellar start and the stats back that up of course.
4. Austin Watson Secures his Spot - The Anaheim game sealed a spot for Watson at least thru the upcoming road trip in my opinion. A primary assist, a physical presence, and all-around awareness on both ends of the ice proved he is on the verge of an every game 4th liner. Admittedly in the Penguins game he got called for a penalty that then decreased his ice time. That said, I’ve found his game to be more consistent than Arvidsson and therefore I think he has secured his spot at this point.
5. Faceoffs - Herein lies the weakness of this club. I haven’t seen it being written about much but as of the 25th the Preds had the 2nd worst face off % in the NHL with a 45.9%. For a team that needs possession this does hurt the cause at times. 4 players take the majority of draws. As expected Paul Gaustad does the best on the team with a 60%. Next is Mike Fisher with 49.4%. Then the drop off happens. Cody Hodgson has a 45.5%. What’s inexcusable though is Mike Ribeiro. 27.6% is eye opening and could be something that sees him move down a line at some point. So the Preds do have a weakness and it’s whenever the 1st-3rd lines drop the puck. Something to keep an eye on going forward.
3 Stars of the Week:
1. James Neal (Again) – 3 goals, 2 assists, +5, and 14 shots on goal.
2. Colin Wilson – 1 goal, 3 assists, +4 and 3 shots on goal.
3. Mike Ribeiro – 1 goal, 3 assists, +4 and 2 shots on goal.
Pekka Rinne - A- – Peks started in each game. The week started with such a tough test from Tampa & they lit the lamp a few times. When you go back and really look at the goals it went like this: PP goal, rebound in the paint, shot through traffic at the point, and one timer from the slot. All really tough goals to stop. Anaheim scored on a PP. The Pens had a snipe from Kunitz and that controversial tally in OT. All of that to say that despite giving up 7 goals on the week, Rinne remains very solid in net. Overall he stopped 75 of 82 shots against.
Perilous Prediction – Last week I went with a Perilous Prediction of Mike Ribeiro with a 3 point week. He finished the week with 1 goal and 3 assists, thereby surpassing my 3 point prediction. Very nice week for him.
This week we have 3 games including our first back to back. My Perilous Prediction is that a D-man scores a goal in each game.
Join in with your own Perilous Prediction by using the #PredsItCPP
The Week Ahead – The week ahead features the Preds trip to Cali and first 3 of a 4-game road trip.
Wednesday will be the first game of the Preds week and it’s a late night affair. The San Jose Sharks are off to a much better season than the previous year. After winning their first 4 games the Sharks cooled off a bit losing 3 in a row. They picked up win #5 for the year against Carolina. The Preds tend to respond well to losses so this will be a very interesting matchup. Last season the Preds failed to score a goal in SJ so they need to reverse that trend. Game time is 9:30 pm CST so get your appropriate beverages to stay up. Also note this is a NBCSN game. I’m quite happy about that.
Saturday will be an afternoon affair with the L.A. Kings. The Kings have had a mixed bag of a start to this season. Losers of their first 3 games, they reeled off their next 5 games as wins. Before the Nashville game they have a Tuesday matchup vs WPG. The Preds swept the season series last year including an OT and shootout victory. Considering his success I would guess Rinne gets the nod for this game. 3 pm start to this one so don’t forget that afternoon time slot.
The week ends with a Sunday night date in Anaheim. The Ducks have continued to struggle on this season. After the loss to Nashville last week they were shutout by Minnesota before a Mon/Tues matchup with Chicago and Dallas. Last year the Ducks swept the season series vs Nashville and posted a regulation win vs Rinne in ANA, and shootout win vs Hutton in So. Cal. I’m guessing this will be Hutton’s start on the week. 7 pm CST start so at least it won’t be a late night game.
Last week I said the Preds would garner 3 points after going 1-1-1. They did 2 points better with a 2-0-1 effort.
This week my #PredsItCWAP is we see a 2-1 week for 4 points.
Feel free to add your own prediction for the week at #PredsItCWAP.
Thanks for reading PredNeck Nation. Want to talk hockey on Twitter? Follow me @brandon_felder and don’t be shy to join in the chatter. Remember it’s a year long conversation using the #PredsItC.
Also, this season for any game I’m watching live I will be using Periscope to do Intermission chats. If you’d like to see what that looks like you can go search BJFelder on YouTube to see the videos posted from this past week. Keep an eye on my Twitter feed to see which games that occurs and please join in and talk some hockey with me there if you’d like to ask questions about the game live or just hear some analysis that is not driven by Willy and Stu. Really hope you will consider joining me there.
Till the next time, take care and as always #WeWantWeber.