With 12 games left in the regular season, the Nashville Predators are on a role. Having won 4 straight, and 7 of their last 10, the Predators in the middle of the Western Conference playoff push. Nothing is guaranteed with so many games left to determine who makes it to the playoffs. But make no mistake, Nashville, a team most expected to finish in the bottom five of the LEAGUE, is for real.
So today we will look at 10 reasons why everyone should “Fear the Fang”
1) Chemistry – Chemistry is one of those words thrown around the NHL like it grows on trees. But does every team really have it? Chemistry isn’t an attributes that a team can just have. It takes time for players to gel with each other. And in Nashville, chemistry results from a system that focuses on the draft, developing players through their minor league affiliate in Milwaukee, and ultimately keeping the players you draft. There are 12 home grown players on the current roster, and 18 roster spots that have been in the organization for at least 2 years. There are few players on the roster who don’t know the system, the personalities, and the tendencies of each player. And this bond that is developed over time is what brings players together on a team.
2) Production from the younger players. Nashville has 8 players that are 25 or younger on their roster. That isn’t as young as the team has been in recent years, but all 8 are contributing both offensively and defensively. Tell me any team that wouldn’t mind having Shea Weber (24), Ryan Suter (25), Cody Franson (22), Colin Wilson (20), Patric Hornqvist (23), and Dustin Boyd (23) on their team. Weber and Suter have already established themselves as elite players on defense and will only continue to improve as they gain experience. Franson and Boyd possess serious potential and need ice time and experience to improve. Patric Hornqvist is leading the team with 27 goals, and Colin Wilson is starting to show the talent that led to his being selected 7th in the 2008 draft.
3) Barry Trotz – No, he doesn’t have a neck, but he does have the respect of his players. No coach has consistently done more with less year after year. Any coach can surprise the league and lead his team to a strong record for one year. But Barry Trotz has led Nashville to the playoffs 4 of the last 5 years and has the Predators in position this year to make a run at the cup. Nashville was picked to finish near the bottom of the league in every one of the past playoff year. Whether Nashville has the talent to compete in the playoffs remains to be seen, but if the talent plays to its potential, Trotz will figure out how to get them the ice time needed to succeed.
4) Scoring – At the start of the year, everyone mocked Nashville by saying they couldn’t score. They picked up no major FA’s, and with the exception of Steve Sullivan being healthy, weren’t expected to improve offensively. Nashville ranked 26th in scoring during the 2008/2009 season and currently ranks 11th. Find a team that has improved 15 spots in scoring this year despite not adding any significant players. Nashville isn’t about superstars. They play a team game and expect every player to contribute. Nashville has 5 players with over 40 points, and 9 players with over 30 points. Only Washington and Chicago match Nashville with 9 players over 30 points.
5) Discipline – When your penalty kill is 29th in the league, staying out of the penalty box is critical. The loss of Greg Zanon to free agency has contributed to Nashville dropping from a top 5 team on the PK to 29th in the league. But Nashville figured out how to limit the impact of its PK depth by improving their discipline. With an average of only 8.9 penalty minutes per game, the Predators lead the league with the fewest penalty minutes. Much of this discipline has resulted from controlling the emotions on the ice and not dropping the gloves at every opportunity. Nashville has the 2nd fewest fighting major in the league.
6) Home / Road Success – Nashville is one of only four teams to have 20 wins both at home and on the road. This sets up Nashville for the playoffs where they have traditionally dominated at home, but failed on the road. If the Predators can maintain their road success, and continue their recent streak of success at home, they will be positioned for a deep run into the playoffs.
7) Expectations – While the playoff teams have yet to be determined, Nashville fares much better in terms of the expectations coming down the stretch. Yes, if Nashville does find a way to miss the playoffs the roar of Pred Nation will be brutal. But nothing compared to teams like Detroit, Calgary, St. Louis, or Anaheim who have all spent more in salaries and were expected to make the playoffs. Furthermore, if Nashville gets into the playoffs, their most likely opponents will be Chicago, San Jose, or Vancouver. All 3 of those teams are not only expected to be in the playoffs, but make a run at the Stanley Cup. The pressure on them to succeed will be a heavy burden on their shoulders. This is especially true for San Jose who has had years of playoff let downs and Chicago who has salary cap issues moving forward that might require dismantling the team. Nashville, while never making it through the 1st round, is only pressured to make it to the 2nd round. Anything past the 2nd round is icing on the cake.
Fatigue – With as many as 10 teams jockeying for the 8 playoffs spots, intensity will increase with every remaining game in the regular season. Beyond making the playoffs, teams will be playing for higher seeds. Even at the top of the conference, where Chicago and San Jose have dominated for most of the year, the 1st and 2nd seed are no longer guaranteed. Phoenix and Vancouver are coming on strong, and a losing streak by Chicago or San Jose could see either or both of those teams falling to the 3rd or 4th position. Every game counts and the pressure on each team will start to affect their energy levels down the stretch. It always does. How many times have we seen a team exert every ounce of energy just to make the playoffs only to get blown away in the 1st round? Nashville falls into that category a number of previous years. Nashville is just starting to peak and only has to win 4 or 5 of their remaining 11 games to make the playoffs. For once, they are firmly in the playoff seeding and aren’t fighting just to move up to the 8th seed. This allows Nashville to limit the ice time of their top lines, unlike in the past where Weber, Suter, Arnott, Dumont, and Sullivan were expected to play 22 – 28 minutes a game.
9) History – I am far too lazy to research the playoff history of every team, but would venture to say that Nashville in recent years has set the benchmark for playoff futility. After being eliminated in the 1st round the last 4 years, the hockey gods are bound to show Nashville some love eventually. Whether it is this year, next year, or sometime down the road, the odds suggest Nashville will break through. I vote for this year, but then again I am biased.
10) Pred Nation – For years, it amazed me how many fans came to Predators games wearing the opponents sweaters. Initially, it was Red Wings fans who were Preds fans unless we played the Wings. St. Louis, Dallas, Calgary, and Chicago fans always came out in full force when we played them at home. But Pred Nation is growing. We are starting to show up in Detroit, Calgary, Vancouver, Dallas, St. Louis, Anaheim, and Los Angeles. And no longer does the Red Wing faithful dominate our barn when they come to town. Already this year, Pred Nation invaded Atlanta for a game. Tomorrow night against St. Louis will see Pred Nation exerting their pride for the Predators on the road. We are everywhere. You might not see us, but we are everywhere…Fear the Fang! And in the playoffs, you will see how far Pred Nation has come. We will be louder, more passionate, and more intimidating then any barn in the league. We will be the 7th Man.
FEAR THE FANG!
About the Author
Written by Mark Jasper