A little over a month ago, the Nashville Predators were 10 points out of a playoff spot in the Central Division and holding off the Detroit Red Wings for the designation of the division’s worst team.
But since March 18, Predators have gone on a pretty miraculous run. With a 13-5-0 record since, Nashville is in the driver’s seat, so to speak, for the Central’s final playoff spot with nine games left in the season.
The Colorado Avalanche, who have a 13-1-2 record over the last month, is the only team in the NHL that’s been hotter than the Predators during that span.
Following Monday’s 5-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks at Bridgestone Arena, Nashville holds a one-point lead over the fifth-place Dallas Stars and a four-point lead on sixth-place Chicago.
Making the playoffs was nothing more than a pipe dream this time last month, which raises the question, how much credit does Predators coach John Hynes deserve for turning Nashville’s season around?
“I think our new coaches – starting with John Hynes-- has really established himself with our team and how we want to play,” Predators GM David Poile said after the trade deadline.
“…All the things that were wrong at the beginning of our season are now turning in our favor. Our goaltending is terrific, our special teams have really improved, our power play is a big reason why our season got turned around…Our penalty killing which was worst in the league has improved by 10 percentage points.”
Since March 18, the Predators have scored the eight-most goals (52), have the third-highest points percentage (.722) and the fourth-best penalty kill (88.2 percent) while allowing the second-fewest goals (35) -- not counting the Canucks or Oilers who have played six and 12 games during that span, respectively.
When the Predators hired Hynes in January of last year, Poile pointed to his work with the U.S. National Development Program and his acumen for developing young players as reasons why Hynes landed the job.
It can be argued that Hynes has done his best coaching with the Predators over the last month as he pieced together Nashville’s lineup with an NHL-high 12 rookies as if it were a monochromatic jigsaw puzzle.
“John Hynes has installed a winning system that can be played regardless of the names on the jersey,” Poile said. “He’s gotten the players to have a full buy-in here for where we’re heading into this critical stretch.”
Hynes and the Predators strung together wins and thrust themselves into the playoff picture on the backs of several rookies who came in a provided a jolt of winning attitude that the team had been missing.
Eeli Tolvanen thrust himself into the Calder Trophy conversation as he nearly single-handedly turned the Predators’ power play into one of the best in the league. The Predators formed the “Herd line” -- the hard-hitting, punch-you-in-the-face forward group that Hynes had been searching for since January -- with Colton Sissons centering rookies Yakov Trenin and Mathieu Olivier.
Once Olivier went down with an injury, fellow rookie Tanner Jeannot stepped in and has quite possibly made that line even more physically intimidating. Rookie defensemen Alex Carrier and Jeremy Davies stepped right into blueline roles for Ryan Ellis and Mark Borowiecki. The defense didn’t miss a beat; in fact, it improved.
It can be argued that Hynes has done more with less than any other coach in the NHL this year considering he’s been without Filip Forsberg, Matt Duchene, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, Dante Fabbro, Juuse Saros, Ryan Johansen, Tolvanen, Olivier, Carrier, Borowiecki and Luca Sbisa for varying points of time this season.
While it remains to be seen if the Predators can hold off the suddenly surging Stars as the regular season comes to a close, Hynes has presumably done enough to earn a pass for this season in the eyes of the fanbase.
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_