The Nashville Predators clinched the Central Division with three wins over the Buffalo Sabres, the Vancouver Canucks, and the Chicago Blackhawks. The Predators are unquestionably playing their best hockey, and are peaking at the exact right time.

Key Stats

Goals

Against Buffalo: Craig Smith, P.K. Subban, Ryan Johansen

Against Vancouver: Colton Sissons, Nick Bonino, Ryan Johansen

Against Chicago: Dante Fabbro, Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Colton Sissons, Nick Bonino

Assists

Against Buffalo: Kyle Turris, P.K. Subban, Viktor Arvidsson, Roman Josi

Against Vancouver: Nick Bonino, Austin Watson (2), Ryan Ellis, Filip Forsberg

Against Chicago: Filip Forsberg, Dan Hamhuis, Mikael Granlund, Wayne Simmonds, Craig Smith, P.K. Subban, Nick Bonino, Ryan Ellis, Austin Watson

What Happened (Buffalo)

Craig Smith scored the first goal of the game with his face at 8:49 after a P.K. Subban ripper popped him on his cheek. Subban wasn’t done, as he bombed another in the second period only 44 seconds in. Ryan Johansen, who has a knack for netting game-winning goals, backhanded the third goal off the backboard at 6:32 in the third period.

What Happened (Vancouver)

Nashville stormed back after a lackluster first period. Colton Sissons and Nick Bonino grabbed a goal apiece to tie the game, and Ryan Johansen backhanded a ricocheted shot into a virtually empty net. The Predators held down the fort and moved to first place in the Central Division. The last time they held that spot was before they played the Canucks back on December 9th.

What Happened (Chicago)

Chicago grabbed two goals in the first period, but the Predators did not go away. Dante Fabbro netted his first NHL goal, and Filip Forsberg slapped the tying goal past Cam Ward before the second period was over. Viktor Arvidsson, Colton Sissons, and Nick Bonino finished the comeback, and with that win, the Predators claimed the Central Division.

Some Stats For You

Ryan Johansen had a career year with 50 assists, surpassing his previous record of 47. Johansen centered different forwards all year yet still found ways to contribute. He also led the team in primary assists and power play points.

Ryan Ellis finished the year with 41 points, which was a career high for him. Colton Sissons and Mattias Ekholm also surpassed their individual point totals, and Nick Bonino put 35 points together. All four players are traditionally defensive-oriented, but every player found ways to contribute at differing times.

Kyle Turris and Calle Jarnkrok were disappointing this year. Jarnkrok, who had sporadic offensive moments, ultimately produced only 26 points in 79 games. Turris, who was hurt for most of the year, has recently found his legs. Points are coming for him, but a couple of Turris-goals here and there would’ve really helped the Predators.

Looking Forward

For the first time in franchise history, the Nashville Predators are the Central Division champions in consecutive years. Regardless of how the season went or how you felt about the team overall, they got the job done. They will face the Dallas Stars in the first round of the playoffs.

Zac Rinaldo, who completed his miraculous recovery from season-ending shoulder surgery, has been activated from the IR. He flew through the conditioning stint in Milwaukee and has been medically cleared to play again. Rinaldo last played on January 1st.

Viktor Arvidsson did it; he became the all-time regular season goal scorer for the Nashville Predators. On an innocent looking shot, Arvidsson sniped his 34th goal of the year past Cam Ward, and his celebration accurately described the entire mood in Bridgestone Arena. He passed Filip Forsberg and Jason Arnott, who both previously held the record of 33 goals. Oh, and he only needed 58 games to do it.

This team does not have a good power play, but they have excellent goaltending and can outplay teams in 5-on-5 situations. Perhaps they’ll find some power play magic in the postseason (as in getting the puck to Viktor Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg, or P.K. Subban).

End of Season Awards

Most Improved Player: Colton Sissons

He increased his goal and point totals and stepped up in the absence of Arvidsson and Forsberg. Sissons will likely have a solid postseason as well.

Most Impressive Player: Mattias Ekholm

Ekholm was the hottest player in the lineup for a time and was able to contribute 36 assists. He stabilized the defensive core when Subban was injured.

Biggest Addition to the lineup: Mikael Granlund

Granlund was basically what the Predators wanted Kevin Fiala to be: a mature forward who could anchor the second line. He’s on the verge of breaking out and racking up points.

Biggest Subtraction to the lineup: Ryan Hartman 

It’s a shame Hartman could not find a concrete place in the lineup. While Simmonds for Hartman was a fair trade, he was a fan favorite who could have very well been a big piece for the Predators down the road.

Most Effective Forward: Viktor Arvidsson

He scored 34 goals in 58 games. Enough said.

Best Defensive Defenseman: Ryan Ellis

Ellis, despite the lack of scoring, overall played the best defense in front of Rinne and Saros. Numbers don’t always reflect play, but Ellis definitely provided some cushion and allowed Josi to attack.

Best Player: Roman Josi

Josi was the rock of the team. The Captain may be soft-spoken, but he made some noise when his skates hit the ice. He picked up almost 28 minutes of ice time per night when Subban was hurt, contributed both offensively and defensively, and was clearly the best player for the Predators in the regular season.

Jack Woods covers the Nashville Predators and the Central Division for PenaltyBoxRadio.com and FullPressCoverage.com. You can follow Jack on Twitter at @jack_woods15

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