The unveiling of the Nashville Predators 2015-16 regular season schedule means a new campaign and another quest for hockey’s ultimate prize. What obstacles and key matchups stand in their way to a return trip to the playoffs and beyond next spring? We’ve got the seven defining elements of the next campaign right here:
1. Meet me in Smashville:
For the second-straight season, the Predators will begin their 82-game, regular season set at home versus an Eastern Conference opponent. The Carolina Hurricanes will pay their only visit of 2015-16 to Bridgestone Arena on Oct. 8 at 7 p.m. (unless noted, all game times are CST). A fellow Southeastern NHL team, the Canes remain tied to Preds Head Coach Peter Laviolette due to the pair bringing the Stanley Cup to Raleigh, North Carolina, in 2006. In 2014-15, the Predators and Hurricanes split their two matchups, with the home teams each claiming a one-goal victory.
Also like the recently concluded campaign, Nashville will play game No. 82 at American Airlines Center in Dallas, this time on April 9 at 7 p.m. The Central Division rivals finished 12 points apart in the standings last season with the Predators coming away with three wins over the Stars in five tries.
2. The Central Division - The NHL’s toughest grouping:
Quality performances versus divisional opponents have become paramount in today’s NHL, due to the playoff qualification setup and 35 percent of a team’s games being played against its chosen rivals. Nashville went 15-9-5 against their Central Division brethren in 2014-15, finishing in second place in the seven-team grouping. A first-round meeting with the eventual 2015 Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks only served to intensify the rivalry within the Central for the Predators in 2014-15, and this coming season should prove to hold more of the same.
The Preds will face divisional opponents repeatedly down the stretch of the 2015-16 season, but will not play their first intra-divisional game until Nov. 5 versus the Wild in Minnesota. Here’s the remaining slate of Central Division contests:
Chicago Blackhawks: Five games - Two home, three away
- @Chicago - Tuesday, Dec. 8 at 7:30 p.m.
- Chicago - Thursday, Dec. 10 at 7 p.m.
- @Chicago - Tuesday, Jan. 12 at 7:30 p.m.
- Chicago - Tuesday, Jan. 19 at 7 p.m.
- @Chicago - Thursday, Feb. 25 at 7:30 p.m.
Colorado Avalanche: Five games - Three home, two away
- Colorado - Saturday, Dec. 12 at 7 p.m.
- @Colorado - Friday, Jan. 8 at 8 p.m.
- @Colorado - Saturday, March 5 at 2 p.m.
- Colorado - Monday, March 28 at 7 p.m.
- Colorado - Tuesday, April 5 at 7 p.m.
Dallas Stars: Five games - Two home, three away
- @Dallas - Thursday, Dec. 31 at 7:30 p.m. (New Year’s Eve)
- Dallas - Monday, Feb. 15 at 7 p.m.
- Dallas - Tuesday, March 1 at 7 p.m.
- @Dallas - Tuesday, March 29 at 7:30 p.m.
- @Dallas - Saturday, April 9 at 7 p.m.
Minnesota Wild: Four games - Two home, two away
- @Minnesota - Thursday, Nov. 5 at 7 p.m.
- @Minnesota - Saturday, Nov. 21 at 7 p.m.
- Minnesota - Saturday, Dec. 19 at 7 p.m.
- Minnesota - Saturday, Jan. 16 at 7 p.m.
St. Louis Blues: Five games - Three home, two away
- St. Louis - Saturday, Nov. 7 at 7 p.m.
- @St. Louis - Thursday, Dec. 17 at 7 p.m.
- @St. Louis - Tuesday, Dec. 29 at 7 p.m.
- St. Louis - Tuesday, Feb. 2 at 7 p.m.
- St. Louis - Saturday. Feb. 27 at 2 p.m.
Winnipeg Jets: Five games - Two home, three away
- Winnipeg - Saturday, Nov. 14 at 6 p.m.
- Winnipeg - Tuesday, Jan. 5 at 7 p.m.
- @Winnipeg - Thursday, Jan. 14 at 7 p.m.
- @Winnipeg - Thursday, Jan. 21 at 7 p.m.
- @Winnipeg - Tuesday, March 8 at 7 p.m.
3. CMA and SEC Road Trips:
Pollstar Magazine’s 2014 Arena of the Year knows how to stay busy, and with Bridgestone Arena again hosting the 2015 Country Music Awards and 2016 SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament, the Predators will find themselves out on the road for two of their longest excursions of the season in November and March.
Nashville’s stellar home record ranked among the League’s best in 2014-15, but if the team desires to take another step forward in 2015-16, building upon the 19 road wins earned last season will be a smart place to start. The CMAs will send the Preds to San Jose on Oct. 28 before heading up the California coast for dates with Los Angeles (Oct. 31) and Anaheim (Nov. 1). The four-game roadie will then wrap up with the Preds first Central Division clash of the season versus the Wild in Minnesota (Nov. 5).
When the University of Kentucky “blue mist” invades Bridgestone Arena in the spring of 2016, the Predators will pay another visit out to the far west and predominantly the Pacific Division. In a tie for their longest road trip of 2015-16, the Preds will spend five consecutive games away from Music City beginning in the Mile High City. An afternoon tilt at Pepsi Center versus the Avalanche (March 5) starts the trip, followed by visits to Winnipeg (March 8), Calgary (March 9), Vancouver (March 12) and Edmonton (March 14).
4. The 2016 NHL® All-Star Weekend Effect:
Nashville will need some time to prep for the 2016 NHL® All-Star Game (Jan. 31) and NHL All-Star Skills Competition™ (Jan. 30), meaning the Predators will take part in a four-game Canadian road swing preceding the League’s premier event. Nashville will make stops in Winnipeg (Jan. 21), Edmonton (Jan. 23), Vancouver (Jan. 26) and Calgary (Jan. 27), in conjunction with a stretch of 12-straight games against Western Conference teams.
Once the calendar flips to February, the Preds will start a four-game home stand with opponents significant to both of the head coaches in franchise history. First, Laviolette’s previous employer, the Philadelphia Flyers pay a visit on Thursday, Feb. 4, followed by the Preds former bench boss Barry Trotz coming to town on Feb. 9.
5. Early Attention to the East:
The Western Conference claimed its fourth Stanley Cup in a row in 2015, another indicator of a developing trend of West dominance in the NHL. The Preds, too, have had their fair share of success against the East, including a 20-10-2 mark in inter-conference games in 2014-15.
Nashville will have an opportunity to jump out to a quick start in 2015-16 due to six of their initial eight contests coming against the Eastern Conference, including a visit from the 2015 Prince of Wales Trophy winner, the Tampa Bay Lightning, on Oct. 20. Claiming two points in any fashion (including the newly instituted 3-on-3 overtime format) is less of a worry when teams from opposite conferences face off, since the two squads aren’t directly chasing one another in the race to clinch playoff berths - with that in consideration, the Preds slate to begin 2015-16 could be close to ideal.
6. Home Sweet Home:
Boasting the NHL’s second best home record last season, the Predators will be anxious to build upon their dominant trend in Gold in front of the Loyal Legion in 2015-16. Nashville set a slew of attendance and winning-streak records in 2014-15, marks that might only fall because of Preds home dates this coming campaign.
The Preds will play in Music City on Saturday night 14 times in 2015-16 in conjunction with their new “Golden Saturdays” promotion. They’ll also enjoy one five-game home stand and a trio of four-contest sets within the friendly confines of Bridgestone Arena. Nashville’s longest stay of the season comes directly before one of their five-game road trips, starting on Saturday, Nov. 7 and running until Nov. 17. St. Louis, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg and Anaheim will all meet the Preds during the 10-day period.
7. A Western Race to the Finish:
As far as defining moments go, the Predators final 10 games of the regular season should probably be considered the most important. Eight games against the West and a road contest with Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins could go a long way in determining the Predators positioning in the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs, a chance at their first Central Division title or even a postseason berth in general.
Nashville plays Colorado and Dallas twice during the 10-game stretch and three of their last four contests are at home (San Jose, Colorado and Arizona). A four-contest home stand, starting on March 21 versus Los Angeles and concluding with Colorado on March 28, could make or break their momentum down the stretch and across the pivotal set of 10 games.
Check out the Nashville Predators full 2015-16 regular season season here.