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Predators Half Season Report

Arvidsson Claims Half Season MVP and Top Goal, While Irwin is Biggest Surprise

by John Glennon @glennonsports / jg1sport@aol.com

The Predators capped off the first half of the season with a bang on Tuesday, beating Vancouver 2-1 in a thrilling overtime finish.

It was the kind of win the team hopes will provide a quality quick-start to the remaining 41 contests on the schedule.

Here's a look back at the first-half superlatives, as well as a glimpse ahead for the Preds, who return to action Thursday against Boston at Bridgestone Arena:

First-Half MVP (Viktor Arvidsson) - Cases could be made for Pekka Rinne and Ryan Johansen, among others, but we'll give this to Arvidson for a variety of reasons. It starts with the relentlessly aggressive approach he brings to every shift in every game, a mindset that's ideal for the Preds' approach. In addition, Arvidsson began this season with just 16 career points in 62 NHL games, but he's already piled up 25 in 39 contests this year.

The 23-year-old ranks first on the team in shots (123), tied for second in points (25) and third in goals (10). His versatility is illustrated by the fact he averages more than a minute per game on both the power play and penalty kill.

"There's always something going on when he's on the ice," Preds Head Coach Peter Laviolette said earlier in the season. "He's constantly in motion. He's just a noticeable player out on the ice. And I think the more he grows with experience, the more you're going to notice him."

Video: Fisher nets two as Predators down Blues, 6-3

Best Win (Dec. 13, 6-3 over St. Louis) - Things looked grim for the Predators early in the second period of this contest, as they fell behind St. Louis 3-0 in front of a troubled home crowd. But the Preds roared back, scoring six-straight goals - two in the second period and four in the third - to capture a win over the Central foe.

"It's a great effort, being down like that and finding a way to come back and playing really good in the second and third period - against a great team, too, a division rival," Preds Captain Mike Fisher said after scoring a pair of goals. "That was a big win."

It was the first time in franchise history the Preds scored six unanswered goals after being down by three goals.

Video: NSH@STL: Arvidsson dances around Blues and scores

Best Goal (Arvidsson, Dec. 30 against St. Louis) - There's not much argument about this one, as Arvidsson scored a goal for the ages during a 4-0 victory at St. Louis. With the Preds up 2-0 in the second period, Arvidsson slid a puck through his own legs, curled around defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, avoided goalie Jake Allen's pokecheck and tapped the puck into the net. The Internet immediately blew up with highlight clips of the score.

Best Goaltending Performance (Juuse Saros, Oct. 30 against Pittsburgh) - In his first start of the season - and just the second start of his NHL career - Saros turned in a gem against the defending Stanley Cup champions. He stopped 34 of 35 Pittsburgh shots to help the Predators, who were missing several players due to illness, spank the Penguins 5-1.

"It is part of Juuse's growing process and how he is evolving through this organization," Laviolette said afterward. "He really bailed us out."

Video: VAN@NSH: Jarnkrok nets shorthanded game-winner in OT

Most Magical Moment (Jan. 10 against Vancouver) - There were a handful of candidates, but the most recent gets the nod here. With seconds remaining in overtime against Vancouver, the Predators were hanging on for dear life - trying to kill off a penalty and get to the shootout. But when defenseman Roman Josi blocked a Vancouver shot, it led to a 2-on-0 break in the other direction. Josi fed Calle Jarnkrok, who scored the game-winning goal with less than two seconds left - the latest regular-season overtime goal in Preds' history.

"It happened so quick," Laviolette said. "They made it just under the gun... Luckily the clock was down far enough where there wouldn't be a turnaround had they not connected. But they did connect, and it was a beautiful play."

Best Surprise (Defenseman Matt Irwin) - Irwin wasn't on the Preds' roster at the start of the season, not really a surprise considering he spent almost the entire 2015-16 season in the American Hockey League. But ever since getting recalled in late October, Irwin has made a huge impact on the Preds. He scored goals in three-straight games to help spark the Preds' strong November, and Irwin has spent much of his stay here in a top-four role - because of injuries to Ryan Ellis and P.K. Subban. He leads the team with a plus-15 rating and just received a new contract for next year.

Most Promising Stretch Ahead (Month of February) - Overall, the Predators have been good playing in front of their supportive, sellout crowds at Bridgestone Arena this season, having produced an 11-5-5 home record. That bodes well for a February playoff push, as the Predators will play nine home games that month. Some of the opponents who'll visit Nashville in February are Detroit, Washington, Dallas and Vancouver.

Most Pressing Need (Consistency) - With wins over teams like Pittsburgh, Chicago, Anaheim and St. Louis (three times), the Preds have shown the ability to beat the NHL's best. But finding that top gear consistently has been a challenge, and injuries to the likes of Subban and James Neal haven't helped. The Predators put together a couple of three-game win streaks in November, but they'll need to string together more stretches like that in the second half of the season as part of the playoff push.

Best Team Stat (First-Goal Success) - Scoring first is always important, but the Predators have fared especially well this year when drawing first blood. The Predators are the only team in the NHL not to have suffered a regulation loss after scoring the game's first goal this season. Nashville is 12-0-4 when scoring first, a .750 winning percentage that's tied for second-best in the League. Getting the game's first goal has generally been an indication the Preds are playing with energy and controlling possession.

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