Goaltending Pekka Rinne was limited to only 24 games last season after he underwent surgery to repair his hip from infection during the season. After missing the playoffs by only three points, the Predators are hoping that a healthy Rinne will allow them to make the post-season for the first time in two years. The 6-5 Rinne is a huge presence in the net. When healthy, Rinne is one of the elite goaltenders in the league. In 2011-12, Rinne had 43 wins, a goals-against average of 2.39 and a save percentage of .923. If Rinne can return to form, then the Predators have a legitimate shot to crack the top four of the Central Division and make a return to the postseason. Carter Hutton filled-in admirably for the injured Rinne and impressed enough to be a nice security blanket should anything happen to the Finn this year. Hutton, in 40 games played, had 20 wins, a goalsagainst average of 2.62 and a save percentage of .910. Power-Play Despite having a revamped lineup, the Nashville Predators should have the potential for a top-ten power-play unit. Even with all of their scoring issues, the Predators finished 12th in the league last year as they converted 19.2 percent of their power-play opportunities. With a whole new cast of characters, the Predators have the ability to improve on their standing. With Shea Weber manning the point, the unit will have some continuity and a big playmaker to run the play through. To say Weber was productive on the power-play is an understatement. Of his 56 points, nearly half (26 points) came from being on the man-advantage. Even with the roster turnover that the team will experience this year, a lot more of the same can be expected out of the 29 year-old captain. James Neal Penalty-Kill Ronald C. Modra/Getty Images With a team that has focused so much on the defensive zone for almost their entire existence in the NHL; the expectation would be that having a good penalty kill would be second nature. Over the last two seasons, this thought has not proven to be the case. The Predators have finished 29th and 25th in back-to-back seasons. That ranking does not begin to tell the story. In the strike-shortened 2013 season, the team killed only 75.7 percent of penalties and had only a slight improvement in 2013-14 with an 80.3 percent success rate. A big help to the penalty-kill will be the return of Pekka Rinne in goal. If Rinne can return to pre-surgery form, the shorthanded unit will be all the better for it. Three Questions 1. How will the team acclimate to Peter Laviolette’s coaching system? After years of playing under Barry Trotz and a strict defensive scheme, the Predators will open up the offense a little bit. David Poile brought in veteran talent to make the transition as seamless as possible for Laviolette. The Predators have the talent, but the new faces will have to gain some chemistry fast. 2. Will James Neal be the “go-to” player for Nashville’s offense? In Pittsburgh Neal was a complementary piece to the Penguins lineup. In Nashville, the winger will be counted on to produce. Neal is among the best pure shooters in the NHL, but will his new label as “the guy” get into his head? He could be a huge differencemaker for this team. 3. Is Pekka Rinne ready to carry the load in goal? After coming off of surgery to repair his hip, the goalie was put back on the shelf when it later became infected and shortened his season. Word out of Nashville is that he’s fully recovered and ready to show his All-Star form. Prediction Playing in one of the toughest divisions in the NHL and adjusting to a new head coach is not a recipe for success. The Predators will be better in 2014-15 as long as older players perform as expected, but they will be fighting for a playoff spot at the end of the year.
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