The Nashville Predators, along with 29 other teams in the NHL, will be looking to get out to a fast start once the 2012-13 season finally gets under way. With what will likely only be a 48-game schedule to work with, teams that get out to a fast start will have more of an advantage than usual in the race for playoff positioning.
“It’s a sprint. You can’t have a five or six game slump because you put yourself behind the eight ball. With a shortened season, if you get out of it by six or seven points, those points are tough to get back. We’ve got to be ready to play the same way every night and get as many points as we can to get in the playoffs because as we’ve seen last year, all you have to do is get in now and you have a chance to win,” said Predators tough guy Brian McGrattan.
Games against Central Division opponents will likely be the biggest determining factor on what kind of season the Predators will have this year. Nashville fared well against Central Division opponents last season, posting a 16-5-3 record in 24 divisional games. The Predators went 8-2-2 against their Central Division rivals at home and 8-3-1 on the road. They’re hoping for similar success in the division this season.
“It’s going to be extremely important. Normally, you’re playing six (games). I think this year we’re going to be playing five, and that’s obviously a bigger percentage of your schedule. We had success last year. We’ve just got to keep that up. I think we always take our in-division games very seriously, and I think they’re good rivalries because every single team is extremely good in our division,” said Predators forward Colin Wilson.
Nashville will not be playing any teams in the Eastern Conference during the regular season, so it’s going to be a battle in the Western Conference for playoff positioning from day one. The Predators had arguably the toughest division in the NHL last season, and a healthy percentage of the games on the condensed schedule will likely be against teams from the high-powered Central Division. That means the emphasis will be on divisional games like never before in the history of the Predators franchise.
“It’s really important because we don’t play the eastern teams. There’s going to be a lot of games against St. Louis, Chicago and those teams. We want to keep it going the same way we did last year. If you win those games, you’re going to make the playoffs, so it’s going to be huge,” said Predators second-year defenseman Roman Josi.
One advantage that the Predators will have over a number of teams in the league is team chemistry. Nashville has 17 players currently listed on the roster that played for them last season, and that’s not including guys that played for Milwaukee during the lockout like Ryan Ellis and Jonathon Blum who were on the Predators’ roster at different times last year. Veteran defenseman Scott Hannan is really the only new face because even backup goaltender Chris Mason has played in Nashville before and knows a lot of the current players and coaching staff.
“I think that’s really important. That’s going to be huge, especially now that we only have like a week of training camp. It’s going to be quick, and you need to build chemistry. We already have that with all of the guys that have been here last year so it’s going to be huge,” Josi said.
While some other teams, most notably the Minnesota Wild, will be trying to build team chemistry on the ice as the season goes along, the Predators will have already formed that team chemistry. With a shortened, tighter schedule, being able to have that team chemistry right off the bat could be the difference in making the playoffs or not, and the Predators feel that gives them a huge advantage over some of the other competition.
“It’s great. Everybody is friends. Everybody is excited to see each other so we’re going to have that team chemistry. You already feel like a team. I think in a 48-game schedule, teams are going to have to build that team chemistry in such a short period of time, and we have that advantage,” Wilson said.
The Predators shouldn’t have any difficulty at all maintaining a high level of team chemistry. However, having the same kind of success against Central Division opponents is going to be difficult. St. Louis, Detroit and Chicago were all playoff teams a year ago, and Columbus has a chip on their shoulder every time they play the Predators.
If the Predators can hold their own in the Central Division, they have a chance to put together a very memorable season. If they can’t, they may be watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs instead of participating in them.