|Pekka Rinne sports a record of 28-11-3 and a .925 save percentage. (Getty Images)|
As we enter the second half of the season, the NHL's hottest team has to be the Nashville Predators, winners of 12 of their past 14 games and suddenly just three points out of the top spot in the Western Conference.
Goaltender Pekka Rinne is starting to play like he did last season when he finished as a Vezina Trophy finalist, and his play, combined with the presence of franchise defensemen Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, continues to make Nashville one of the toughest teams in the league to score against.
Even though the Predators are often times viewed as an offensively challenged, defense-first team, they're still in the top half of the league in terms of goals per game and have a balanced attack that's spread throughout the lineup, already boasting nine players with at least 10 goals this season.
Exciting times for the Predators and their fans -- well, it should be anyway. None of that recent success was the topic of discussion over All-Star weekend. Instead, it all seemed to focus on comments made by Suter, a free agent after this season. Suter said he wouldn't sign a contract extension before the trade deadline to avoid becoming a distraction.
That, of course, did nothing but make the entire situation an even bigger distraction, which is kind of a shame because the Predators are really playing some great hockey right now.
The challenge facing general manager David Poile has been obvious for quite a while. He entered the season needing to sign Rinne, Suter and Weber, the backbone of this current team, over the next two years before they can become free agents.
Rinne was taken care of earlier in the season, and Suter is obviously the next priority (Weber isn't eligible for UFA status until after next season). It's going to be interesting to see how this all plays out for Nashville over the remainder of the season, because they have a team that, with a couple of tweaks, looks like it could give some teams in the Western Conference a lot of trouble in the playoffs.