Nashville Predators know they have a missing piece in playoff push

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 12:  In his 700th career NHL game Shea Weber #6 of the Nashville Predators is congratulated by teammates Mike Fisher #12 and Filip Forsberg #9 after scoring a goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the third period at Bridgestone Arena on November 12, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 12: In his 700th career NHL game Shea Weber #6 of the Nashville Predators is congratulated by teammates Mike Fisher #12 and Filip Forsberg #9 after scoring a goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the third period at Bridgestone Arena on November 12, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

The Nashville Predators have 25 points in 18 games, good for third in the Central Division. It’s a point total that would have them second in the Atlantic and first in the Pacific. Instead, they’re in the hockey equivalent of the Group of Death.

“The Detroit Red Wings … they got out,” said Nashville general manager David Poile.

The Predators are a solid contender: a playoff team under coach Peter Laviolette last season, and it's poised to be one again. Goalie Pekka Rinne is 10-3-3 with a 2.17 GAA. The defense in front of him -- anchored by Roman Josi, Shea Weber, Seth Jones and Ryan Ellis -- is one of the deepest in the conference.

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But Poile knows there’s room for improvement, and is keeping an eye on reinforcements at the forward spot.

“In goal and in defense, we’re very pleased there. Can we improve our forwards a bit? That would probably be the missing piece,” he said this week.

The Predators are averaging 2.83 goals per game this season, up from 2.76 last season, which was up from 2.61 in Barry Trotz’s final season in Nashville. But Poile said those totals can be a little deceiving.

“We’ve had a season in which we’ve won seven to nothing and seven to five. So everyone’s getting points,” he said.

From an outsider’s perspective, the Predators need help up the middle. Mike Ribeiro has 11 points in 18 games. Mike Fisher has four points in 18. Calle Jarnkrok has potential, but has five points in 17 games. Cody Hodgson is still a project. Paul Gaustad is there to win faceoffs.

While Poile wouldn’t specify the center spot as a point of need, he acknowledged that his eyes are open for help up front. And the fact is that with the depth the Predators have on defense, they’re dealing from a position of strength.

“I’m happy with our team but we have a lot of hockey to play to get to the position of getting to the playoffs and getting to the trade deadline, when you see what’s available to you,” he said.

“Most playoff bound teams try to improve themselves at that time.”

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