Through the first seven games of the new NHL season, the Nashville Predators have only four wins. But somehow, that’s good enough to find themselves in first place in the new look Central Division.

While the Preds are well on their way to re-establishing themselves as a force to be reckoned with, Matt Duchene, who scored the game winning shootout goal against the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday, suggested the Preds’ record should probably be better based on their level of play.

“I’ve been feeling very good this year, despite the tough breaks and probably not having the production that I deserve. That could be said for a lot of guys on our team. Guys are playing good hockey. We’re still finding ways to win, which is important. Our record is probably as bad as it could possibly be for how we’ve played.”

Duchene was a constant presence in the offensive zone in both games against Chicago, putting up seven shots and one assist in 35:14 time on ice.

“I know I’m right there, like I said, I’ve liked a lot of my decisions around the net. I’m tipping a lot of pucks, I knock one out of the air on the power play and it hits, like, the fabric of his jersey. That’s the stuff that’s going on right now.”

For a guy like Duchene, that confidence was key to his game winning shootout goal. Coming close in regulation helped fuel his aggression in the shootout to putting home the winner, admitting that last year he lost some of that confidence.

“In a shootout it starts upstairs in your head and for me,” Duchene said after the game. “Last year, I second guessed myself a lot and got stopped early. Didn’t have the feel, the shootout’s always been something that has been a strength of mine. For me, it starts upstairs. Having that confidence. When you pick that puck up, you’ve got to know that you’re gonna score.”

Duchene on Preds’ different mindset

One thing that stood out in Matt Duchene’s words after Wednesday’s shootout win was his confidence in his team. How different things have felt for him and his teammates as compared to last season.

“There’s a lot to like right now. It’s a different vibe in that locker room, it’s a different vibe on the ice. We’re playing with some swagger and confidence that we didn’t have last year, we were very fragile last year,” Duchene said.

That fragility Duchene mentions about last year was apparent to fans and media alike. A coaching change, offensive struggles, questionable roster choices, a league-wide shutdown due to a pandemic. That’s a lot to happen to a team in one season.

But it was the pressure to win that made last year such a tough grind.

“We felt a lot of pressure from a lot of different sources and I think this year, we’re turning that pressure into opportunity, knowing that we have a great team,” Duchene said. “Knowing we can do some damage. I can’t wait to see what it’s going to look like once the flood gates open offensively for us.”

On those offensive struggles, the team hasn’t exactly been lighting it up. The Preds have scored 2.29 goals per game so far, good for only 27th in the league. With guys like Matt Duchene, Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, and Ryan Johansen, you’d expect better production than that.

Duchene says the team just needs to stay at it, keep grinding away, and the results will come.

“I don’t think we’re getting frustrated. I know guys internally are wanting to score and wanting to produce, myself being one of them. But at the same time, I’m relaxed in terms of where our game is at. As individuals and as a team.”

Duchene added, with a smile: “I’ve had lots of starts like this in my career, and things have a funny way of working themselves out if you keep up with it.”

It’s not there yet. Just rewind the tape on the 7-0 loss to Dallas not even a week ago, you’ll see what I mean. Or look at how they fell apart in the 3rd period against Carolina on January 18th.

But if the Nashville Predators can continue to find opportunity in the pressure to win, as Matt Duchene suggested, they will be back in the playoffs very soon.

— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —