Predators set sights on Stanley Cup after early playoff exit
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Nashville Predators got a very painful reminder of just how close the playoffs can be after losing their first-round series to the eventual Stanley Cup champs.
A year older with nearly the entire roster back, the Predators aren’t ready to forget as they target a Stanley Cup once again.
”We felt we were that close,” Nashville captain Shea Weber said. ”There’s a tough series against the eventual Stanley Cup champions. You need a bounce or two to go the other way. It could’ve been totally different, but it didn’t, and now we’ve got to make our own way.”
The Predators blew leads of 3-0 and 3-1 in losing that series in six games to Chicago. For a team that spending more than two months as either the first or second team in the Western Conference and finished second in the Central Division with 104 points, that made the early exit hurt even more.
Now Nashville goes into its second season with Peter Laviolette as head coach. He revved up the Predators’ offense with his wide-open scheme, and they ranked third in the league averaging 31.9 shots per game and with a 1.26 goals for/against ratio playing five-on-five. The Predators sold out a franchise-record 30 games and ranked second with a 28-9-4 record at home.
Defenseman Barret Jackman and forward Cody Hodgson are the only new additions. General manager David Poile re-signed veteran centers Mike Ribeiro and Mike Fisher and kept a pair of young forwards giving Colin Wilson a four-year deal and Craig Smith a five-year contract.
Nashville still has plenty of room for improvement, especially on the power play where they were better than only five teams last season. Forward Filip Forsberg said playing better with the man advantage will help make them more dangerous down the stretch.
”We have higher goals than losing in the first round,” Forsberg said.
Some things to know as the Predators open the season Thursday night hosting the Carolina Hurricanes:
AGING CENTERS: The Predators’ top two lines will be centered by a pair of 35-year-olds in Ribeiro and Fisher after Nashville signed each forward to two-year deals. Ribeiro ranked second with 62 points last season and tied for 12th in the NHL with 47 assists – the most ever by a Nashville center – but he turns 36 in February. Fisher, who turned 35 in June, posted 39 points in 59 games last season once he returned from a ruptured Achilles.
SCORESBERG: Some of Ribeiro’s success came from playing on a line with Forsberg, who set a franchise-rookie record scoring 63 points. The Swede also became just the fifth youngest player in NHL history to lead a playoff-bound team in scoring. Now Forsberg’s challenge is following up his dazzling season.
DEFENSIVE PAIRINGS: Weber and Josi certainly work very well together as Nashville’s top-scoring defensemen last season. Weber ranked sixth among NHL defensemen with 15 goals, and nine of those gave Nashville the lead. Josi finished fifth in Norris Trophy voting last season when he scored 55 points, a 15-point jump from his previous season. Jackman, 34, adds some much-needed experience with 803 games to one of the NHL’s youngest defensive corps, and he is likely to pair with Seth Jones.
RIDING RINNE: The All-Star goalie won 41 games and finished second in voting for the Vezina Trophy trophy after being a finalist for the third time in the past five years. He also was eighth in voting for the Hart Trophy. He played 64 games last season, tied for the second-highest total of his career. He was third in the NHL with a 2.18 goals-against average and tied for seventh with a .923 save percentage.
ALL-STAR BREAK: The Predators open the season playing five of their first eight games at home, and they wrap up the regular season playing eight of their final 12 in Nashville. But they will play only three times at home in January with the NHL All-Star Game coming to Nashville at the end of the month.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker