With a mostly different, and much younger, roster from a year ago, it would only seem logical that the Predators would drop off somewhat this year from last season.
But Nashville keeps finding ways to keep on its pace from last season. After their 4-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday, the Predators have 50 points in 42 games, just two points off their total at the same point last season.
Most important for the Predators, they gave themselves a small cushion over the Avalanche. Before this game, Nashville was just one point clear of Colorado in the standings. It's now three points clear with two games in hand. The Predators also have some momentum as they head home to face Colorado on Thursday as part of a back-to-back set.
All season long, Nashville has tried to figure out ways to fine-tune its identity as a tough defensive group. It's slowly getting there with three goals allowed in its last two games. On top of that, Nashville has allowed an average of two goals per game in its last six contests -- all wins by goaltender Pekka Rinne.
Even with five wins in their last six games, the Predators still can't get much separation from the rest of the West. They were only three points clear from ninth place through Tuesday.
D Ryan Ellis had his second consecutive multi-point game. Ellis tallied a first-period goal and assisted on Patric Hornqvist's third-period score that effectively put the game away. Following the game, Nashville coach Barry Trotz was mum on whether he believed Ellis had proved he could stick in the NHL for good. "I wouldn't say anybody deserves to be here based on five or six games or 40 games," Trotz said. "It's a game-to-game thing."
C Nick Spaling kept an odd streak alive. The Predators have never lost a game in regulation in which Spaling has scored. Overall, Nashville, including playoffs, is 12-0-1 when the third-line grinder scores. Spaling's goal gave him his 14th point this season. That tied a career high set a year ago in 74 games. Spaling has played in 37 games so far this year. "It's nice to score," Spaling said. "It's been awhile and I always want to contribute offensively, so it's nice to be able to chip in tonight."
G Pekka Rinne has hit his groove in his last two games, allowing a total of three goals during that stretch. On Tuesday, he stymied the Avalanche during a strong second period in which they outshot Nashville 18-6. Rinne made 32 saves on 33 shots in the game. "Pekka was really the key in the second period. He was the difference in the game to me," coach Barry Trotz said.
RW Martin Erat had a goal and an assist and has 10 points in his last five games against the Avalanche dating to last season. Erat leads the Predators in points per game.
D Ryan Ellis played only 12:33, but he made his ice time count. Ellis notched his second consecutive multi-point game. He has four points in six games with Nashville so far this season.
RW Patric Hornqvist scored for the second straight game. He has three goals in his last two games and five points in his last four contests.
RW Jerred Smithson (lower body) is expected to return this week.
QUOTE TO NOTE
"That's exactly the way we wanted to come out. We were all over them." -- D Shea Weber.