The Nashville Predators have shown that when they are at the top of their game, they are one of, if not the most, dangerous teams in the NHL. Their 4-0 win against the St. Louis Blues Sunday at Bridgestone Arena serves as the measuring stick for what playing at the top of their games looks like.
With 85 points, Nashville is in sole possession of first place in the Central Division and just one point behind Vegas for best in the Western Conference. The Preds face Winnipeg on Tuesday, the team that is hot on their heels in the race for the Central crown.
However, Nashville is perhaps the hottest team in the NHL right now. Since the beginning of 2018, the Preds have earned points in 19 of 23 games. They have not lost more than two consecutive games in regulation this season, and they are one of just seven teams that have not suffered a losing streak of more than three games this season.
“I think confidence can be a real thing,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. “I think that when you’re working hard and you’re doing the right things, I think you can take confidence from that. The guys worked really hard today, so they should be confident in the ability and in a game if they go out and work hard they can be successful. So, confidence I think is probably a big deal.”
What makes the Preds domination of St. Louis all the more impressive is the fact that three of their four goals came from players on the third and fourth lines – Colton Sissons, Scott Hartnell and Austin Watson. In fact, Watson, who has come on strong in the last few games, has four goals in four games against the Blues this season, including two short-handed goals.
“Maybe I get lucky against the Blues, I don’t know,” Watson said. “It’s a Central Division opponent and a rivalry game for us, they always have a good team, it’s always a physical battle and I think that gets the juices flowing a little bit. I think for me that’s a good thing.”
“He was really good today and he’s been good, his line has been good,” Laviolette added. “I think as the season pushes on here, if you remember how (Watson) played in the playoffs last year was impressive; his physicality, his speed, his tenacity on the puck. He was about as effective as you can be for a playoff run.
“I think as the season started he got himself going, but now as the playoffs become closer and the season pushes on, you start to see players ramp up more towards their game, and his is that skating, physical presence. I thought that he was terrific and his line was terrific. “
As impressive as Watson has been recently, goaltender Pekka Rinne has been even more eye-catching. In his last 18 starts, Rinne has only three regulations losses. He won eight straight at one point, and his six shutouts are tied for second-best in the NHL.
“Any time you put some wins in a row you gain confidence, you gain momentum and you can sense that for sure,” Rinne said.
Since Jan. 1, the Predators have allowed the fewest goals in the NHL (50) and trail only the Boston Bruins for least goals surrendered all season (150). Five of their six defensemen have a positive +/- rating; Tony Bittetto has a -2 rating.
“They’ve done a great job,” Rinne said. “Pretty much every night you see a lot of big blocks, especially on the penalty kill. Ryan Ellis, even at the end of the game (today) when it’s 4-0, takes a Parayko shot somewhere in the leg. I thought to myself, ‘Ouch, that’s a heavy shot.’ Anytime they block a shot, I feel like they do it for me, so I feel very grateful for that.”
During the game, the Preds announced two trades. Forward Pontus Aberg was traded to the Edmonton Oilers for forward Mark Letestu, who was then flipped to the Columbus Blue Jackets for a 2018 fourth-round pick. Nashville also traded a 2018 sixth-round pick to the San Jose Sharks for forward Brandon Bollig and goaltender Troy Grosenick. Both are expected to report to AHL Milwaukee.