The Nashville Predators have been one of the big surprises in the 2009/2010 NHL season. Together with the Phoenix Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche, the Predators have exceeded all expectations from the so called experts who all predicted the three teams to finish at the bottom of the Western Conference standings. Keep in mind, though, that everything that has happened so far is just part of the '1st Quarter' of the NHL season. Traditionally, the '1st Quarter is everything that happens prior to New Years. This year, the Olympics changes everything. Schedules have been compressed to account for the two week break in mid February where most of the top tier talent in the NHL will head to Vancouver to represent their countries.
What does all this mean? Well, traditionally, the '1st quarter' is usually a guage of where teams are, but by no means a true predicator of where teams will end up. While you can lose the Stanley Cup in the 1st quarter, you can't win it. This year, the 1st quarter goes up to the start of the Olympic break and as such represents almost 3/4th of the NHL season. By the time the Nashville Predators break for the Olympics they will have played 61 games of the 82 in the season. 61 games is enough to know who is a contender and who is a pretender. So anyone who doesn't think the next 9 games leading into the Olympics are important should go look at how close all the teams in the Western Conference are bunched up together in the standings.
With the exception of the Edmonton Oilers, every team has a shot at the playoffs this year. Columbus and St. Louis, who struggled early in the year, have caught fire and find themselves only 8 and 5 points out of the playoffs respectively. Nashville, which was as high as 4th in the conference has slipped down to 7th in the last week due to four straight losses. And it's not going to get any easier. With the exception of Atlanta and the New York Islanders, Nashville's seven remaining opponants going into the Olympic break are all currently in playoff position. And Atlanta and New York are only one game out respectively in the Eastern Conference. Every game between now and the Olympic break will have playoff implications for not only the Nashville Predators, but each of the teams they have on their schedule.
Lets break down the 9 game 'mini strech' for Nashville
1/29 – Detroit – Detroit comes into this game as the wounded lion in the conference. Hounded by injuries all year, they are finally starting to get healthy and their record shows its. Once 9 points behind Nashville, they are currently only 1 point behind. Nashville does have a game in hand. Nashville must win this game, though to establish some separation from Detroit as well as to break the 4 game losing streak they currently have
1/30 – Atlanta – Not a conference game, but important nontheless. A win for Nashville(especially coming off of a Detroit win) would be a great start to a 4 game home stand.
2/2 – Phoenix – Now its gets critical. Phoenix is ahead of Nashville in the standings and recently beat Nashville in their 1st matchup of the season. It was a game that Nashville gave to Phoenix. A win for Nashville not only moves them ahead in the standings, but gives them a much needed 2 points against Phoenix that might become important when tie breakers are determined at the end.
2/4 – Colorado – Another critical game. Nashville loss to Colorado in the last game and will want to enact revenge for their poor showing. Again, 2 points in a conference game with a team ahead of them in the standings.
2/6 – San Jose – Whether you think San Jose or Chicago is the best team in the Western Conference(or for that matter, the league), doesn't matter. The Predators needs to make a statement against San Jose that they can compete with the top teamin the league. A win or a loss won't have any impact to San Jose, but will for the Predstors.
The remaining for games (Islanders, Rangers, Devils, and Penquins) are all in the Eastern Conference, so their impact won't be a important as in conference games, but will be important in building up momentum going into the Olympic break.
18 points on the line going into the last nine games.
About the Author
Written by Mark Jasper