If I told you before the season began that the Nashville Predators would be leading the league with a .708 win percentage and the Edmonton Oilers would be a league worst .316, would you have called me crazy?
Well, here is what I DID say:
10) The Nashville Predators
It’s really hard to know what to expect from the Predators. They have added a lot of potential goal scoring in James Neal and Mike Ribiero as well as a new offensively minded coach.
Their defense and goaltending are stellar and their centre depth is something else so there is potential for them to return to the playoffs.
This likely comes down to whether or not they can adapt to a totally new style of playing so they are a team that could surprise.
Looks like I keyed in on the right factors as Nashville has moved up from 2.62 G/G last season to 2.83 this season but more significantly, Pekka Rinne is back and healthy and has them 2nd in the league at 2.11 GA/G. Rinne is sporting a .934 save percentage and only allowing 1.88 GA/G so, if that continues, there is nothing unsustainable about Nashville’s performance.
And it appears that Nashville fans are responding:
The Predators are a popular ticket this season in Nashville.
The latest sign was Tuesday night’s draw of 17,401 fans at Bridgestone Arena. The crowd set the franchise’s single-game home attendance record in the 3-2 win over Central Divison rival St. Louis.
“I think it starts with what the guys on the ice are doing; it’s just an incredible year,” Predators CEO Jeff Cogen said. “Certainly our passionate fans are appreciating that and coming out in droves. And our success has created additional fans.”
Tuesday’s attendance topped the previous record of 17,355 set on April 12 against Chicago in the final home game last season.
Of the 17 games played at Bridgestone Arena this season, 13 have been sold out, including eight standing room-only crowds.
Okay, so I was a little optimistic about the Oilers moving up to 12th in the conference…I don’t think anyone thought they would win only 2 games between Remembrance Day and New Years Day…but that’s what happened although it seems I certainly identified the issues:
12) The Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers seem to have improved somewhat but there are still tremendous holes in the lineup (what else is new?)
Their centre depth remains the worst in the league, they don’t have ONE top pairing defenseman and their goaltending is questionable.
At centre, they are a RNH injury away from disaster, it appears they will play Nikita Nikitin as a top pairing D (yikes) and have decided Ben Scrivens is as least an average NHL goaltender. Scrivens was very good early in his Oiler career but was very pedestrian as the season wore on.
The Oilers don’t score much and they are dreadful defensively (although they should improve somewhat) and the addition of some mid level defensemen, some cast off wingers and a couple more rookies are NOT the answer.
I guess the biggest surprise in the WC this season has to be the Winnipeg Jets. Despite losing 4 of their top 6 D and Evander Kane, they’re hanging in there but I don’t think they can sustain their performance and both Los Angeles and Calgary will move past them in the standings.
The biggest disappointments thus far have to be the Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild who, on paper, should be better .
I wouldn’t rule out the Stars from the playoffs yet though since they are 8-2-0 in their last 10 games played and are only 6 points out of a wild card spot. A strong second half will get them there.
The Wild just can’t seem to get any traction going 3-4-3 in their last 10 due mainly to shaky goaltending but they too could go on a run if things improve in net.
But, to me, the most fascinating team to watch as we turn into the home stretch is the Calgary Flames.
As the season progresses, games will become more focused on play within the conference and division and the Flames have been exceptional against WC opponents (15-7-1) and 10-3-1 vs. the Pacific division.
With last night’s win over the Oilers (who the Flames have several remaining games against) the Flames now have a 69.4% chance of making the playoffs and I think they will.