Going into the November 14th home game against the Canadiens, Nashville sat in 12th place in the Western Conference with 17 points. They were about to face a 17-game stretch with 13 games coming at home. It was a huge test, and a make or break stretch of the Predators’ season. I’d say they passed the exam.
Barry Trotz and company reeled off 12 wins out of those 17 games, vaulting into 5th in the conference. The rest of the league is finally taking notice, realizing that Trotz’s band of brothers is once again a formidable foe.
They picked up marquee wins over San Jose, New Jersey, Detroit, and Chicago. More importantly, previously-struggling forwards Martin Erat and David Legwand have turned on the jets. Erat has played so well that he’s unseated J.P. Dumont on the top line. Legwand’s all-around game has been turned up a notch, and the line with he, Ward, and Smithson has become difficult to score on.
What the Preds have done over the last month has been staggering. Before the stretch started, I almost expected it; 13 of 17 at home is a recipe for success. The way they’ve been winning the games, though, has impressed me. Dominant victories over Detroit and Montreal. Back-to-back wins over the NHL's best (at the time) San Jose and New Jersey. Road wins in Chicago and Colorado (two venues they don’t have the best success in). Even runaway victories on back-to-back nights over Columbus over Tampa Bay caught my attention (two games they could have easily overlooked).
But they can’t be satisfied with this recent success – not one bit. While the first half of December was successful, a bigger test awaits. Six of their next seven are away from home, as they'll officially reach the halfway point of the season. Starting tonight, they make the Western Canada swing, a trip that they usually do well on. Nashville is 6-5-1 on this trip the last two years, which can be a 'black hole' of sorts for other teams.
The western jaunt is followed up by four key games against divisional opponents. The Preds will have a home-and-home with Chicago right after Christmas, which are oddly the last two games of their season series. Games in St. Louis and Columbus, where they are a combined 2-0 this season, will finish up the 2009 calendar year.
Nashville cannot take their foot off the pedal! These seven games against Western foes may go a long way in determining what kind of Predators team we’ll see in 2010. Will they come home on January 2nd still neck-and-neck with the Blackhawks?? Or will we see a team fighting again to get some breathing room from the 8th seed in the west??
If this team wants to solidify its status of being a playoff contender, they need to finish December as strong as they started it (5-1-2). It will all be determined by those 20 players that have given it 110% over the last month-and-a-half.
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.