When Nashville Predators General Manager David Poile coined the term “competitive rebuild” over the summer, many believed he was being slightly impractical regarding the expectations of his team in 2021.
But perhaps Poile knew exactly what he was talking about after all.
The Predators weren’t supposed to be this good 28 games into the season. They weren’t supposed to occupy second place in the Central Division. They weren’t supposed to be tied for the sixth-most wins (17) and the 10th-best win percentage (.625) in the NHL.
But what’s even more impressive about the Predators’ 28-game start isn’t just the number of wins they’ve been able to collect, it’s the manner in which they’ve been able to find success.
Ten of their 17 wins have come in one-goal games. Nine different players have scored a game-winning goal, including four players who have combined for 10 of them. Nashville has also won four of the six games Juuse Saros didn’t start.
The Predators have been in nearly every game this year, and an argument can be made that they’ve only really been out of five of them. They’re a team that doesn’t get blown out much either; six of their 10 losses have been decided by two goals or less.
“We find ways to win different games,” Predators coach John Hynes said on Dec. 10. “[Against the Islanders on Thursday] — a heavy, hard, physical game, emotional game — we win it. We come in against [New Jersey on Friday] and [were without] two of our big forwards who log big ice time and play a lot of key situations with [Matt] Duchene, one of our leading scorers, Colton Sissons, one of our biggest identity players. … We played 11 forwards and seven D. I think when you look at the group, we’re a highly competitive group. The guys, they dig in and find ways to compete the right way with the identity that we play with.”
In tandem with the team’s success, several Predators players have been thriving individually as well.
The Predators have five players averaging at a near-point-per-game pace — Roman Josi (0.96), Mikael Granlund (0.96), Duchene (0.96), Filip Forsberg (0.95) and Ryan Johansen (0.88)
Nashville also has four players with 20 or more points; only Colorado (7) and Toronto (5) have more. Additionally, nine Predators have scored five or more goals — second-most in the NHL. Only Florida has more with 10.
“I think the competitive nature of the group is at a high level,” Hynes said. “We have a lot of guys that are natural competitors, which is something we’ve talked about. … Over the course of our season, we’ve had excellent goaltending and our special teams have done well. That’s a good recipe to win. But I think No. 1 foremost is the competitive nature and the toughness of the group has been a determining factor.”
Nashville’s five-game win streak is currently the longest in the league, and only three other teams have more road wins than the Predators’ nine.
They’re also one of seven teams without a loss when leading after the first period and one of just four teams with double-digit wins without a loss when leading after the first period.
For as good as the Predators have been, one has to ponder how long they’ll be able to sustain their current rate of success. Or perhaps it’s time to stop assuming Nashville is overachieving and start accepting this is who the Predators are.
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_