Predators: 3 Key Concerns Still Remaining

Have you ever wondered, “what makes something go viral?” What is it about, say, a guy chugging juice while skateboarding with Fleetwood Mac playing over the top that makes people describe the video as “encapsulating a mood,” leading millions of viewers to flock to it? Is there something calculated in the decision when creating content, or is it just plain luck and coincidence? Well, the likelihood is probably the latter.

Ryan Johansen almost certainly couldn’t have had any idea that when he answered a question during a post-game press conference with, “We’re vibin’, Robbie!” that it would have taken off to the extent of being quoted, printed on t-shirts and of course made into a gif. And if a gif isn’t made of a saying, is it really even a saying nowadays?

“We’re vibin’” has become a mantra in Nashville, and you can bet that following every win that there will be a reference made to it somewhere by someone. Heck, it’s in their Twitter Bio. Lately – if you follow the Predators’ social media team or people in the team’s circle – you’ve heard it plenty because they have found success and just keep rolling.

You can’t take the wins away from them; the Predators have certainly earned all the points they have accumulated. However, there are still some areas that give cause for concern. Not to rain on the vibin party, but they definitely need to be addressed.

Eeli Tolvanen is the Predators’ Power Play

At the start of the season, the Predators’ power play was flat-out bad. They sat in the basement of the league with one of the worst percentages. With the way they were playing overall, the consensus seemed to be, as a team, they were just not that good. It was a real chicken or the egg moment. Were the Predators bad because their special teams were terrible, or were their special teams so bad because they were not a very good team in general?

Of course, then the miraculous turn around took place, and when examining it – as many did, trying to find out the reasons for how it became to be – one stat that pointed to success was the vastly improved power play. Eeli Tolvanen played a big role in the revitalization. The Predators gave him his opportunity, often letting him play on the point where he could creep down just past the top of the circles in the offensive zone and let that deadly shot go. Just like that, with the success they were having, the Predators seemingly found their trigger man, and they didn’t look back.

From March 21 to April 6, the Predators had the league’s second-best power play, converting 33.3 percent of their opportunities. Out of the six man-advantage goals the Predators scored during that span, Tolvanen netted two of them. But that’s not all. Through that same time period, the young Finn led the team in points, with 10, and half of those came via the power play.

Eeli Tolvanen, Nashville Predators
Nashville Predators forward Eeli Tolvanen is congratulated after scoring a goal against the Chicago Blackhawks(AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

Tolvanen asserted himself as a threat on special teams, and the opposition started to take notice. This helped create time and space for others, such as Mikael Granlund, who also had two of the six markers through that nine-game span.

Related: Predators’ Granlund Making the Most of His Second Chance

But now to the concern. April 6 was the last game Tolvanen played before missing the next seven due to injury. During that time, the Predators’ man advantage was possibly exposed for being too one-dimensional. They failed to score a single power play goal with the former 30th overall pick out of the lineup.

However, then Tolvanen returned, and it took just his third game back for the Predators’ special teams to find the back of the net once again. Although it wasn’t the young phenom who tallied the power play goal on April 26, he was on the ice at the time of the score, roaming around his usual slot, certainly playing on the mind of the Florida Panthers and Chris Driedger. The Predators had just under three minutes of total power play time against the Panthers that night, 2:52 to be exact, and Tolvanen was out there for 1:58 of it.

The Predators have dealt with significant injuries this season. They’ve lost key players for lengthy periods of time. In an ideal world, no one would have to deal with injuries. Unfortunately, just because Tolvanen has missed time already this season doesn’t mean he is immune from getting hurt again. If the Predators want to find meaningful success to cap off this up and down season, their power play needs to figure out how to make it work with and without Tolvanen.

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

Speaking of injuries, it seems to be the theme of the Predators’ season, but it’s also what’s made this run they’re on all the more remarkable. They lead the league in rookies dressed, and it’s been purely out of necessity.

It’s nice to see all the stars of the future get a crack in the big league, and some have been extremely impressive. However, the problem is when the team starts to regain their health and players are ready to return. You can’t hold those deemed to be the “stars” out of the lineup.

Take Matt Duchene. There has been so much criticism involving him that it could be the theme of its own talk show. Many tried to correlate the team’s success with the Duchene’s absence which, for the record, is ridiculous. Duchene may not be helping the team to the expectation everyone has, but he doesn’t hurt the team either. He’s a skillful player and has immense talent; you can’t get better from subtracting someone like that from the lineup. Just remember: correlation doesn’t always equal causation.

Related: Predators Are Getting More From Duchene Than Scoresheet Shows

Anyway, we digress. Head coach John Hynes made it very clear that when Duchene was ready to return to game action, he would be inserted back into the lineup immediately, and sure enough, he was. The same will apply to every injured player who’s usually deemed to have full-time status.

Matt Duchene Nashville Predators
Matt Duchene, Nashville Predators (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)

However, there’s another point of view. Predators’ young forward Rem Pitlick spoke to the importance of players gelling together and building a rapport on the ice.

“I definitely am a firm believer in chemistry,” Pitlick said when asked about players coming in and out of the lineup. “When people can work together and feel off each other, it’s kind of hard to put that into words, but I really believe in chemistry.”

He also added that there’s no such thing as perfection and trusted the personnel on the team.

“At the end of the day, there’s a lot of good hockey players on this team. Chemistry can happen fast when everyone has a lot of skill sets. I think that just makes the whole meshing process easier when things of that nature happen when people come back in.”  

However, therein lies the conundrum. Can the chemistry happen so fast that the Predators can insert players back into the lineup without jeopardizing a playoff push with only five games remaining in the regular season? Or how about, could the chemistry materialize in time to win a best-of-seven series against a high-caliber contender? Should they make the playoffs, chemistry would need to be built before dropping four games. Can it happen that fast?

But with that said, it doesn’t make the decision easier. The solution isn’t to stick with the lineup that’s winning and roll the dice just because we don’t know how the team will operate when fully healthy. Can you imagine the Predators making the playoffs and getting bounced in the first round after not playing their strongest team on paper? That’s a tough one to come back from in the coaching circle.

Maybe the results have been better with the rookies and unknowns playing. And maybe it will disrupt the chemistry by removing the players who have stepped in and carried the load for the regulars. But can you honestly say that the Predators stand a better shot against the Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning or Panthers by sitting fully established, bonafide NHL players?

You have to give yourself the best shot of winning, and players such as Duchene, Filip Forsberg, Dante Fabbro and Mark Borowiecki do just that. If Hynes elected to keep this current lineup in favor of those listed players and the Predators do anything except win, he may as well start looking for another job as soon as the season concludes.

Who’s The Predators’ “Guy” After Forsberg?

Injuries seem to have a connection to each of these concerns, and well, here we go again. Forsberg is still sidelined with an upper-body injury. So far, the Predators’ sniper has missed 17 consecutive games. However, up until April 21, when captain Roman Josi registered his 29th point, Forsberg was still the team’s scoring leader. As a reminder, his last game was March 25!

He still has the team’s third-most goals despite playing 11 less games than Calle Jarnkrok (second) and 13 less than Mikael Granlund, who sits atop of that list. But it’s not as if there’s a massive gap between Forsberg and the top two goal scorers. He is just one tally behind Jarnkrok’s 12 and two shy of Granlund’s 13.

Filip Forsberg Nashville Predators
Filip Forsberg, Nashville Predators (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Predators are winning by committee right now, and they rely on a team effort to score goals, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But when it comes to playing the top teams in the league – as will be the case if they qualify for the postseason – you’re going to need an established scorer to call upon. While there could be a case made for Forsberg not quite being an elite talent just yet, he is the best the Predators have. He’s also more than capable of scoring against the opposition’s best.

The greatest ability is availability. Forsberg will not be impervious to sustaining another injury when he finally returns. Again, like Tolvanen, you hope that doesn’t happen, but it is a possibility. The Predators have always struggled with secondary scoring; it’s been the go-to topic every time they fail. However, it often revolves around a lack of scoring beyond the first line. Yet this time, the situation may be direr because the scoring touch isn’t exclusive to one line – like previous Predators’ teams – it seems to be contained to one player.

If the Predators were unable to achieve meaningful success when the entire first line was contributing, how much confidence can you have when they look to one player each and every time? Again, this is no knock against scoring by committee. Spreading out the offense often has many advantages. However, it’s never worked for the Predators before, so you must question can it work for them now?   

The success of this Predators’ roster may have always been limited. However, don’t let the vibin’ message blind you from the inefficiencies that are stopping the Predators from becoming a more complete team. If these concerns aren’t corrected or at least improved, fans may have more time to watch viral videos in the upcoming weeks because there’ll certainly be fewer Predators games.  

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