The script has flipped for Nashville Predators forward Filip Forsberg in 2015-16.
Forsberg is on a tear as of late, scoring 12 points in his last 10 games, and his nine goals in the month of February paces third among all NHLers behind Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins and Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. These numbers are far different from when Forsberg opened the season with just three goals in his first 22 games.
However, this was not the case for Forsberg last season, as the 21-year old’s impressive offensive statistics dropped significantly in the second half of the year. Forsberg led the team in scoring with 50 points (19G, 31A) 55 games into the season, but in a 15-game stretch from Feb. 14 to Mar. 14, he tallied just one goal and two assists. That stretch ultimately hurt his chances at winning the Calder Trophy, given to the league’s rookie of the year.
“You always want to get better the longer the season goes,” Forsberg said Thursday before a 3-1 win versus the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center. “I didn’t like my second half of the year. I picked it up in the playoffs, but yeah, the second half of the regular season was not as good I wanted. It definitely was not as good as the first half of the season. I’m just trying to get better every game and stay consistent.”
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With the January acquisition of Ryan Johansen, it made sense that Forsberg, Johansen and James Neal — Nashville’s three most skilled forwards — would make up Nashville’s top line.
Surprisingly, it did not work out that way. Forsberg and Mike Ribeiro, who have seen tremendous success together since last season, remained intact while Craig Smith played on the opposite wing. The trio has been the most consistent line for the Predators.
“Me and [Ribeiro and Smith] have been connecting really good lately, kind of getting back to where we were last year,” said Forsberg. “That’s been the biggest key. I played with [Ribeiro] all year last year. The way he sees the ice is great. I just try to get open, and I know he’ll find me. I’m just happy to get those kind of passes every night. [Smith] is a hard-working, shoot-first guy. He’s a really good skater. He can really move out there. I think that’s perfect for me and [Ribeiro] who carry the puck, and he works hard to finish off the plays.”
Nashville head coach Peter Laviolette had to tinker with the lines once Johansen joined the team. After enough experimenting, it became evident that separating Forsberg and Ribeiro would not be an option.
“[Forsberg and Ribeiro] have been together a lot, for a year and three-quarters,” said Laviolette. “They seem to have some chemistry. Mike is an excellent play-maker. He sees the ice really well. Craig Smith is playing really well right now. All three of them are playing with speed and confidence, and it’s showing up on the score sheet.”
Ribeiro places third on the team in scoring with 39 points (6G, 33A) in 62 games, and Smith has two goals and two assists in his last six contests.
Forsberg and the Predators are peaking at the right time with just 20 games left in the regular season. While it may have been a frustrating time in the first half of the year, it is always better to peak later when entering the postseason.