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The Central Gauntlet Begins

By @brandon_felder

 The Nashville Predators have tied a Franchise best start with 18 points and a 8-2-2 record. As of Saturday morning they are 1 of only 3 teams who have just 2 regulation losses (Montreal and the New York Rangers) but the only Western Conference team to be able to boast that. What does that earn you in the Central Division? 3rd place. Yes, it’s true the Preds have a games in hand on St Louis (1 game in hand, 1 point behind) and on Dallas (2 games in hand, 4 points behind), but this just shows that the Central Division is not only the best in hockey, but perhaps all of Pro sports.

The Preds took their annual CMA road trip, this one consisting of 4 games. Here’s a brief look at the weeks that was in case you missed it:

Things began with a thrilling 2-1 win in San Jose. That was important since the Sharks shut out the Preds the two times they visited So Cal last year. Roman Josi made a gorgeous pass to spring Eric Nystrom for the games 1st goal. Later, with things tied at 1, Calle Jarnkrok made his presence felt for the first time this season with a laser wrister and most importantly game winning goal. He was coming back from injury and this won’t be the only time we hear from him this column. A big boost to start the road trip with the regulation victory.

Next was a Halloween afternoon affair with the blazing hot L.A. Kings. They’ve been just winning and winning lately. If the 1st scoreless period was a trick, the next 2 periods were an absolute treat to watch. 3 power play goals in the 2nd period and heading into the 3rd the Preds were leading 2-1. L.A. was not going quietly into the Hallowed Eve’s night and tallied twice to start the 3rd period. Ryan Ellis to the rescue with a Rocket Bomb shot that beat Quick high and we found ourselves with some OT. The Preds played in my estimation the best OT frame yet this season, but the mistress of Overtime can be cruel as a Preds 2v1 was broken up by Drew Doughty sending Jeff Carter the other way all alone to win the game 4-3. The Preds get a point but what a fantastic game this was for both clubs.

The next evening on Sunday was the Preds 1st visit to Anaheim. Playing on back to back nights meant Carter Hutton went in net for Nashville. The Ducks had been scuffling big time this season and were desperate to get a win. They came out blazing with 3 1st period goals before the 12 minute mark. The Preds reset in the 2nd period and began the comeback with a PP marker from Shea Weber. Alas, it was for naught as the Ducks tallied a 4th goal in the middle of the 2nd. The Preds did add one more in the 2nd period from Jarnkrok, before the Ducks closed things down in the 3rd frame to pick up the 4-2 win.

Finally, the Preds played a Central Division game for the 1st time this season as they went into Minnesota to try and knock off the Wild at home for the 1st time. The game began with some concerning moments as James Neal hit Zach Parise along the boards in an awkward knee on knee hit that sent Parise to the locker room for the remainder of the game. Pekka Rinne continued his incredible 1st period play and has yet to let in a goal during the 1st frame this season. The Preds kicked off scoring in the 2nd period with a marker from Mike Fisher who was sprung on an incredible pass from Shea Weber who took advantage of a poor Wild line change. The Wild PP was working and well that night. They scored both of their goals that way. Game winner? How about Cody Hodgson getting his first goal as a Nashville Predator…. If you haven’t seen this controversial goal seek it out. Devan Dubnyk was upset at the lack of a whistle. Give credit to Hodgson for playing until there is a whistle as he poked the puck in when it fell between Dubnyk’s pads. Always keep playing until the whistle boys and girls. A big time 3-2 regulation win to start the Central campaign for the Preds.

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Felder’s Fickle Five:

 Respond or react using the #PredsItC5

1.  The Best Top Pair on D in the NHL - I won’t go into their stats because you can find those out in my 3 Stars of the week below. Suffice it to say the Preds are rich beyond compare at the blueline and it starts with Shea Weber and Roman Josi. Both are likely to be Norris Trophy candidates this season. When you get right to it teams have to change their entire gameplan due to this pair. The Preds have only allowed 27 goals against this season, which places them 3rd in the NHL and #1 in the West. It all starts and ends with this pair who I would argue is the best D-pair in the entire league.

 2. Pekka being Pekka - He really is the engine that drives this team at times. When you have elite goaltending you will go far. It’s sometimes hard to give him enough credit. Don’t take Mr. Rinne for granted. He gives you a chance every single game. Consistent as can be and amazingly has yet to let in a 1st period tally. By the way, have you seen his new goalie mask inspired by the movie “Mad Max Fury Road”? It’s so cool, has glow in the dark effects, and I can’t help but think sometime this season after an opponent scores on Pekka he will skate to the bench shouting “WITNESS ME!”

 3. Seriously, these Faceoff Stats - The great weakness of the Preds. I almost feel like there will need to be a weekly update of where things stand with this one. Right now as a team the Preds have an NHL worst 45.7%. The worst percentage for a regular belongs to Mike Ribeiro still with 29.9%. I know plenty of people feel that faceoffs aren’t as important as they used to be. I do somewhat agree when you go back and look at the %’s of recent Stanley Cup winning teams. That said, in a possession league it helps to get it right off the dot.


4. Where oh Where is the 2nd Line Scoring? - The other weakness I want to point out. Hey, give credit where it is due to the 3rd and 4th lines for chipping in and not letting it all fall squarely on the top lines shoulders. That said, the 2nd Line has to get some offense going really soon with the amount of Central opponents on the docket. Colin Wilson had an assist but that’s the only points from the regulars on that 2nd line this week. Craig Smith has been fairly quiet. Ribeiro has been silent and is off to a terrible start to be honest. As the Central foes come calling you need all 4 lines contributing to make a true stand in the Division.

5. Special Teams still strong - Just outside the top 10 in both PP and PK, the Preds special teams units are dialed in. Both rank 11th in the NHL with the PP% holding at 21.1% and 8 PP goals total. Interestingly 6 of those 8 have come on the road. As for the PK they are holding a 83.8%. 8 total goals against the PK and only 2 given up at home. Early signs point towards these units being solid this entire season. It would be quite the accomplishment if the Preds found a way for both units to finish in the top 10 at years end.

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 3 Stars of the Week:

1. Roman Josi – 1 goal, 4 assists, 16 blocked shots and 8 shots on goal.

 2. Shea Weber – 2 goals, 1 assist, 12 blocked shots, and 10 shots on goal.

 3. Calle Jarnkrok – 2 goals and 7 shots on goal.

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Goalie Grades:

 Pekka Rinne  - B+ – Pekka continues his campaign to be universally recognized as the 2nd best goalie in the world. He started in the games against San Jose, L.A., and Minnesota. It waas a very solid week for Rinne, but that doesn’t surprise you I’m sure. Of the 7 goals given up 3 of those were PP goals. Overall he stopped 72 of 79 shots against. Rinne currently sits at 7th in GAA with a 1.98. His Save % is .926 for 14th in the NHL.

 Carter Hutton – C+ - Hutton got shelled the 1st period of that Anaheim game. There’s no way around it that he gets put in tough spots, and letting in that 1 softie per game doesn’t make things better. That said, after those 3 were out of the way he played really well. To be fair, the D didn’t really start playing “their” game until the 2nd period. Carter finished the week with 24 saves on 28 shots against.

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Perilous Prediction – Last week I went with a Perilous Prediction of a D-man scoring a goal in each game. Of the 4 games played a D-man scored in 3 games, with the Preds D notching 4 total goals.

This week my perilous prediction is we see a fight in each of the Central Division games.

Join in with your own Perilous Prediction by using the #PredsItCPP

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 The Week Ahead –  The week ahead features a 4 game homestand. It’s going to be a mixture of Central and Eastern Conference opponents.

Things kick off tonight on Golden Saturday with a visit from Central foe the St. Louis Blues. The Blues have quietly had a very solid start to their season as well, posting a 9-3-1 record for 19 points. The Blues have won 4 of their last 5 games including victories over Chicago, Minnesota, and Tampa Bay. They will be the tallest task of the week in my book and this game gets my vote as the MUST WATCH of the week. Game time is of course a 7 pm start in Smashville.

Tuesday night will be the first Eastern Conference opponent to enter the fray. The Ottawa Senators will be bringing their 7-4-2 record to Music City. The Senators are currently 2nd in their Division behind powerhouse Montreal. They’ve won 4 of their last 5 including an OT win over the Canadiens. The Preds won 4-3 in a shootout up in Ottawa earlier this season. If that game is any indication expect some scoring in this one. 7 PM start time at Bridgestone.

Thursday night is the final Eastern Conference opponent. We will get to see Mike Babcock coach the Toronto Maple Leafs. As the head coach alluded to in his introduction press conference there has been pain this year for the Leafs. As of writing the Leafs are the worst team in the NHL with 7 points. They struggle to score and struggle to defend. Things have looked somewhat more positive lately after a win over Dallas, but this is what I would define as a classic trap game. Anything less than 2 points should be a disappointment. Also, I would like to see Carter Hutton get a spot start in this contest. 7 PM start again in Nashville.

Finally, the week wraps up with another Central foe. The Winnipeg Jets are a bruising team that can win games in a variety of ways, but usually it’s the physically taxing way. If they get a good performance from their goaltender this team picks up wins at a good clip. 8-4-2 for 18 points on their start. Last year the Preds actually finished all 5 games with the Jets in regulation, posting a 3-2 record, and 2-1 at home. Expect a low scoring affair as neither team scored more than 3 goals in any of their contests during the 13-14 season. Note the 6 PM start for this game as the Canadian audience gets to tune in.

Last week I said the Preds would garner 4 points after going 2-2. They did 1 point better with a 2-1-1 effort.

This week my #PredsItCWAP is we see a 2-1-1 week for 5 points again.

Feel free to add your own prediction for the week at #PredsItCWAP.
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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.

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