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Surging Predators starting to look like the Stanley Cup contenders we expected

Nashville entered the month struggling in a way few would have projected, but the Predators shook it off, posted one of the best Novembers in franchise history and look primed to be a top dog in the West.

One wouldn’t have had to do much searching to find fans puzzled by the Nashville Predators’ start to the campaign.

After what was arguably the most interesting off-season in the franchise’s history, headlined by the blockbuster acquisition of P.K. Subban in exchange for then-captain Shea Weber, many prognosticators shone a spotlight on the Predators. Some picked them as one of the Western Conference’s true contenders, other selected Nashville as the likely champion of the often-deadly Central Division and in some cases the Predators were declared the best bet for the Stanley Cup.

And through the first handful of games this season, no one could figure out what had gone so horribly wrong.

Nashville exited the first month of the season with two wins — count ‘em, two — in eight games. Supposedly having made their offense faster and sharper, the Predators were tied for 23rd in goals for. The goaltending was much the same, with Nashville sitting 24th in goals against, allowing 3.5 per game as the calendar switched from October to November. Their possession numbers were ugly, they were only average at generating scoring chances and no team was worse in terms of percentage of goals for and against at 5-on-5.

But as Halloween passed, it seemed so, too, did whatever ghosts were haunting the Predators, because over the course of November, you’d be hard-pressed to find a team that has performed quite as well as Nashville. They look like a completely different team.

In their past 10 games, no team has put up a record that can match Nashville’s 7-3-0 stretch, and for the month as a whole only the New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets have picked up more points.

The Predators’ goal differential since the start of November is plus-19. The only team matching them is the Blue Jackets, and that’s only due to a ludicrous 10-0 drubbing of the Montreal Canadiens. Overall, the Predators have increased their goals for and scoring chance for percentages at 5-on-5 from 34.8 percent and 51.9 percent, respectively, in October to an outstanding 61.8 and 55.7 percent in November. That's not to mention their Corsi For percentage at 5-on-5 has jumped from 48 percent in the opening month to 52.2 percent since the start of November.

And one of the most interesting improvements has been seen in Subban. There was always the belief that he’d maintain his scoring touch in Nashville. His offense had been his calling card since he burst onto the scene with the Canadiens, and he carried that over to the Predators. He racked up two goals and five points in eight games to start the year. But his scoring wasn’t an issue. What some people were taking umbrage with was that it seemed he was an extreme defensive liability in his new home.

Forget his plus-minus, which was minus-7 through October, and focus on the 5-on-5 numbers. Subban had been on the ice for one goal for and seven against. His Corsi For percentage was sub-par, struggling along at 47.3 percent through October. The only thing Subban was doing well is something he’s done well consistently throughout his career, and that’s generate scoring chances.

November has brought change, though. Subban’s scoring has continued and he’s still generating big scoring chance numbers — he’s currently boasting a nearly 61 percent scoring chance for percentage for the month — but he’s also helping drive possession with a 56.9 percent Corsi For percentage at 5-on-5 and the goals for numbers have shot up. At 5-on-5, Subban has been on ice for 12 for and eight against.

And it’s hard to look at what the Predators have done over the past month without mentioning Pekka Rinne. He’s paced the league with nine wins over the past month, has faced the sixth-most shots since Nov. 1 and has posted the league’s best save percentage at all strengths since the start of November. He’s been remarkable at 5-on-5 as well, with the only starting netminders with a better save percentage than Rinne’s .951 mark at five-a-side being Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk and Montreal’s Carey Price.

It goes beyond Subban and Rinne, though. 

This was the highest scoring November the Predators have ever had, and the offense, led by (the presently injured) James Neal, Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg and a resurgent Mike Ribeiro, is on pace to be one of the most explosive in franchise history. The defense, which could be described with a veritable laundry list of positive adjectives, has also contributed more than their share offensively and have this season’s Predators in line to be one of the stingiest teams in franchise history as November comes to a close. 

If there is any real worrisome aspect of the recent success, it’s that the Predators have absolutely had their share of puck luck over the past month. Boasting a PDO — or combined shooting and save percentage — above 100 across an extended period generally means a drop off, no matter how little, is in the offing. Through November, the Predators rolled along at 103.8 percent. Over the season, the Predators are riding along at a healthy 101.2.

There shouldn’t be much concern in Music City, though, because the Nashville of this past month seems more indicative of what’s to come. That’s a good thing for these Predators, as they look primed to make good on all that off-season promise.

(All advanced stats via Corsica)

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