Thursday, June 21, 2012

Highlights of 2012-13 schedule

The National Hockey League released the Nashville Predators 2012-13 schedule on Thursday morning. The complete schedule can be found here. Here are some of the highlights of the newly released schedule:

October 12 @ Detroit: The Predators will open the 2012-13 season on the road in the Motor City against the Red Wings. It's an intriguing game for several reasons. Nashville was finally able to get over the hump in the 2011-12 season, finishing ahead of Detroit in the standings for the first time in franchise history. The Predators went on to defeat the Red Wings in the first round of the playoffs and seemed to finally dethrone their long-time arch-rival. One of the biggest off-season stories this year for the Predators, and the entire NHL in general, is the future of Ryan Suter. Will Suter be playing in this game on October 12? If so, which team will he be playing for?

Seven-game road trip: After playing four of their first five games within the friendly confines of Bridgestone Arena, the Predators will embark on a seven-game road trip starting on October 22 in Anaheim and concluding on November 6 in Winnipeg. It will be the longest road trip of the season for the Predators. The long road trip could actually be a good thing for Nashville because it comes early in the season, and it could be a pretty good team bonding experience.

Eastern Conference "wild card" teams: The Predators will take on every team in the NHL at least once during the 2012-13 season. They will play each team in the Central Division six times, every other Western Conference team four times and will play every team in the Eastern Conference at least once. Nashville's three "wild card" opponents from the Eastern Conference will be the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals. The Predators will play one game at home and one game on the road against each of those three teams.

February homestand: Nashville will play eight of their 12 games in February in Music City. That gives them a big opportunity to collect points at home during the latter half of the season. The Predators have been one of the best teams in the NHL at home over the past five seasons. February could be a huge month for the Predators in determining playoff positioning.

Tough 10-game stretch to close out regular season: The Predators will have a tough 10-game stretch to close out the 2012-13 regular season. Six of those 10 games will come against Central Division rivals. The Predators will take on Detroit three times in the final 10 games, Chicago twice and St. Louis once. Nashville's last game of the regular season will be on April 13 in Dallas.

It's easy to look at the schedule on the day it comes out and try to pinpoint exactly what the key moments in the upcoming season will be, but the biggest determining factor of Nashville's success next season will be what happens in free agency this summer. If the Predators are able to retain key impending free agents such as Suter, as well as make a few more additions to give more depth to the roster, they will be very competitive next season. The picture will start to become more clear during the next few weeks.