With the NHL season a week away, it’s time to look at the newly realigned Central division. Each day, we will be looking at some of the teams that the Blackhawks will be facing in the Central. And hey at least, we are not in the Metropolitan division. Today, we look at the Nashville Predators.
Last year: 16-23-9, 41 points, last in Central Division.
Key Additions: Seth Jones (D), Matt Cullen (C), Viktor Stalberg (RW)
Key Departures: Brandon Yip (RW), Hal Gill (D), Sergei Kostitsyn (LW)
The skinny: After years of being the consistent and pesky Predators who always found a way to get into the playoffs without any offense, the magic ran out last year. The Predators never were able to find the consistency of years past. Shea Weber got off to a slow start but still scored nine goals in the shortened season. There is no scarier shot from the blue line in the Western Conference than that of Weber. Last year was a transition year for the Predators as they saw Ryan Suter depart for Minnesota which separated the most talented defensive pair in the NHL. The Predators are hopeful that Jones will be able to ascend and be Weber’s partner for the next decade. In order to address their lack of offense, the Predators dipped into free agency and signed Cullen and Stalberg away from Minnesota and Chicago. If the Predators are going to bounce back they will need the offense to improve considerably and not finish last in the NHL. Pekka Rinne will be fine in net and he should have a very strong season after a disappointing 2013 season.
Player to watch: Viktor Stalberg- It was a given that Stalberg would not be back with the Blackhawks after his contract expired. He found himself in the doghouse of Joel Quenneville and was on the third or fourth line. Stalberg has great potential and he may be the fastest skater in the NHL when he gets going. In Nashville, he will finally have the opportunity to show that he can excel in a top six forward role and on the power play. Now the question is can Stalberg who has eclipsed the 20 goal mark once in his career, live up to the expectations of the 4 year contract that he signed? Time shall tell.
History: It’s been an interesting history between the Blackhawks and Predators. They have had great battles and who can forget the first round series between the two teams in 2010 when the Blackhawks won three in a row to win the series 4-2 which included a dramatic Game 5 victory with a shorthanded goal to tie the game with 14.2 seconds remaining. Even though the Blackhawks have more talent on offense than the Predators, they have struggled with their stifling defensive style and the play of Rinne. Although the Blackhawks did go 5-0 last year against the Predators and have won their last six in a row against Nashville. In the ten games before that, the Blackhawks went 3-5-2 against Nashville.