This has already been one of the most incredible campaigns of the Nashville Predators 17 seasons. Currently, this season's team is the best in franchise history with 76 points through 53 games (the 2006-07 version of the Predators had 75 with an equal number of contests played).
Only the 2006-07 team, the one that finished with 110 points, was ahead of this team’s pace.
You know many of the reasons for the team’s improvement: a (mostly) healthy Pekka Rinne; the improved attack, with Filip Forsberg, Colin Wilson, Craig Smith and James Neal. But whatever you do, do not underestimate the contributions of Mike Fisher.
Yet, what did you expect from him after the early-July news that he had ruptured his Achilles tendon during offseason workouts?
After all, Fisher is 34-years-old and an Achilles injury is a very difficult ailment for even a young player to overcome. In parts of 11 seasons with the Ottawa Senators before his trade to Nashville in February of 2011, Fisher had four, 20-goal seasons. He has gone on to register two, 20-goal seasons in three full seasons here.
Fisher insisted all along that he would return earlier than any timetable would indicate. He began skating regularly with the team in November and was back for a game at Bridgestone Arena against the Edmonton Oilers on November 27th.
To that point in time, the club had really struggled on the power play (13.9 percent) and the penalty kill (75.9 percent). The team was playing one-goal games regularly (9-3-2 in the 21 games Fisher missed, two-thirds of the team’s games). The Predators managed 2.9 goals-for per game without him.
When he came back, things began to change. On the power play, Fisher began to play the role that Patric Hornqvist had played here for so many seasons, going to the front of the net to obscure the goaltender’s vision. In fact, one night in Anaheim, the Ducks Frederik Andersen was so frustrated, he wrapped his gloves around Fisher’s eyes! It didn’t take long for Fisher’s impact to be felt on the power play, as he leads the team with six power-play goals.
As a result of his efforts there, the power play has converted 17.6 percent of its chances. That isn’t Fisher’s only contribution to the special teams though. While Paul Gaustad and Eric Nystrom are usually the first forwards out on the penalty kill, Fisher and Calle Jarnkrok are usually up next. As a result, the penalty killers have killed off 81.5 percent of the opposing man advantages.
Overall, the team’s scoring is up on a per-game basis, from 2.90 per game to 3.14 per game. Fisher has also helped straighten out the depth chart at center. He has taken on the duties of second line center, allowing Jarnkrok to take the third line, with Gaustad the fourth.
Fisher has also helped Wilson realize his potential. Since Fisher took over the second line, Wilson has scored 13 of his 17 goals as well as 13 of his 19 assists. In addition, James Neal has scored 8 of his 17 goals, even though Neal has missed six games in that span.
Fisher hasn’t only played the role of set-up man, however. He has managed 13 goals in his 30 games. That’s a pace that would project to over 35 goals (25 goals is his career high) over the full 82-game schedule. If he could maintain that over the remaining games, he would finish with a career high 26 in just 61 games!
Fisher’s injury had another effect on the team. Shortly after it happened, the team being concerned about its depth down middle and signed free-agent, Mike Ribeiro. A tremendous playmaker, Ribeiro has spent most of the season centering the Predators top line, and Forsberg and Smith have benefited from that greatly.
Clearly, Fisher has made a remarkable recovery from what could have been a devastating injury to any athlete. The injury prompted the signing of another center who has more than met the expectations of him. Similarly, the return of Fisher has provided the team with a great spark. No one would have predicted that back in early July, but he is putting together what may turn out to be his career year!