The Nashville Predators were flying high in October. They were scoring goals at a franchise-record pace, leading to some exciting hockey with them piling up wins along the way. However, with the Predators losing their last six games and dropping eight of their last 10, those good times seem to be a distant memory.
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During the Predators’ slide, they have suffered losses as bad as 9-4 to the Colorado Avalanche on Nov. 7 and 7-2 to the rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks on Nov. 16. There are flashes where the offence appears to still be in existence, but it’s not coming with the same amount of ease as it used to. However, the bigger issue is the Predators cannot stop the puck from going in their own net and it’s been killing them during this miserable stretch. Nashville has a goals against average of 3.9 over the past 10 games, with them averaging just 2.9 goals for per game.
When the Predators were winning more consistently, player’s stat lines reflected that same success. They were winning by committee. Sure, there were players whose point-per-game totals were soaring, but for the most part, all four lines were rolling. Forward Rocco Grimaldi, probably the closest definition the Predators have to a depth player, even recorded his first three-point NHL game on Oct. 29 against the Blackhawks.
As one would expect, now that the team finds itself amidst struggles. There are players on the Predators’ roster who require a search party, as they are virtually non-existent, well when it comes to the score sheet anyway.
After praising Kyle Turris for what seemed like a resurgence at the start of the season, he has reverted back to the player that Predators’ fans were disappointed with last season. The 30-year-old started this year’s campaign with seven points in his first 11 games, making the lackluster performances from 2018-19 seem like an anomaly.
Since then, the native of New Westminster, BC has totaled just two points and has been a minor presence when on the ice. Turris has shot the puck a combined eight times over his past eight games and has been a healthy scratch for the Predators’ past two, a little deja vu from last season.
TSN’s Bob McKenzie stated it’s no secret that general manager David Poile was actively trying to trade Turris during this past summer. Those trade rumors may start to resurface if Turris continues on this trend. The former Ottawa Senator is collecting a $6 million annual salary, which is very steep considering the center is on pace to record 35 points and is coming off a 23-point campaign last year.
Based on the reaction to the Kevin Fiala for Mikael Granlund trade, it’s safe to say many people saw the deal as Poile besting another fellow general manager. The former Minnesota Wild player came to Nashville during a hectic period in his personal life, as his then-fiancée was still in Minnesota looking after their newborn baby.
With that in mind, Granlund was given somewhat of a pass last season for his lack of production while wearing Predators’ gold. It seemed a little unfair to heap such expectations on to a player who was trying to learn a new system, adjust to being traded for the first time while in North America, as well as, you know, having a newborn hundreds of miles away.
Like Turris, Granlund seemed to show that last season wasn’t a true representation of his skill. The native of Oulu, Sweden recorded four points in just his first six games and looked extremely impressive as did the rest of that Matt Duchene-Filip Forsberg-Granlund line.
Sadly – and again just like Turris – Granlund has seen a significant and disappointing slump since that hot, and arguably misleading start. This case seems to span further than just the team’s struggles. Granlund has recorded just four points in his last 16 games. Despite receiving playing time in the top-six, there was a stretch from Oct. 15 to Nov. 9 where Granlund didn’t record a single point, that’s a 12-game pointless streak.
Colton Sissons was the recipient of a seven-year, $20 million contract back in July, which most agreed was a good, team-friendly deal. The coaching staff never have to worry about Sissons during critical moments of games, as he is a reliable and defensively-solid player. The native of North Vancouver has never been a goal-scoring machine, his value comes from other facets of his game. So, it seems a little unfair to list Sissons as an underperformer just because he has three points in his last ten outings.
However, the stat most alarming is the 26-year-old’s plus/minus during that span. Sissons has a minus-five rating in his last ten games, which is unusual for the Predators’ centerman, who is a plus-40 over his career. During the last ten games, Sissons has the second-worst faceoff percentage on the team, among players who have taken 15 draws or more.
Calle Jarnkrok was arguably one of Nashville’s best players during the Predators’ 6-3 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night, scoring one goal and adding an assist. However, in the games preceding the Predators sixth-straight defeat Jarnkrok has struggled. The former second-round pick has found the score sheet five times and is a minus-four in his last 10 games. Considering two of those five points came against the Canucks on Thursday, it’s seems fair to say that he has been a stranger to the stat sheet.
Jarnkrok has spent the majority of his Predators’ career playing in the bottom-six. However, this season the 28-year-old has spent several games playing on the first two lines, even taking Forsberg’s place on the first line with Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson to start the season. He has shown that he can shoot the puck like a sniper and is more than capable of contributing to the offence.
Depth scoring has plagued the Predators for many seasons and Jarnkrok is certainly a player that should be looked to when the team needs scoring outside of the regulars, such as Forsberg, Duchene, Arvidsson and Roman Josi.
This one may hurt Predators fans more than the others as Johansen was paid handsomely to be a go-to type of player. The $64-million man has scored three times all season, with two of his goals coming in the same game. Johansen was able to register his first goal in sixteen games when he beat the Canucks’ Jacob Markstrom during the first period on Thursday.
Johansen has recorded five points in his last ten games and is minus-six. The centerman has never seemed to be a goal scorer for the Predators, which is extremely disappointing especially when you know how well the native of Port Moody, BC can shoot. The days where he put up 33 and 26 goals in back-to-back seasons for the Blue Jackets seem to have been left in Columbus.
Depth players such as Sissons and Jarnkrok have a little more leeway when it comes to performance and it’s easier to forgive and forget when they face bad stretches. However, when one of your top players – who is paid to make sure that slides do not last longer than they should – fail to perform, it’s put under a microscope.
The Predators fell to the Winnipeg Jets on Nov. 19 by a score of 2-1, the lone goal coming from Nick Bonino. The Predators need timely goals from players like Johansen during one-goal games. They have lost four one-goal games in their past ten contests. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect the highest-paid players to affect those types of games.
No one is saying that the team needs to ride Johansen every game to ensure that they never lose. But one goal can change the result of a game. Receiving more than three goals in the last 21 contests would go a long way to put a stop to this desperate time that Predators are currently facing.
You’ll notice that Rinne is in fact the sixth player listed on this “five-player” list, as well as the question mark next to his name. That’s because it feels criminal to even suggest that the player considered as the Predators’ backbone should even be mentioned. But, when looking at his numbers, it shows he has struggled.
Rinne has started seven times during the same ten-game span that every player has been judged by. The former Vezina-winning goalie has a 2-4-1 record, an .832 save percentage and a 4.40 goals against average (GAA) over that time.
There have been games where the Predators have played well, but they just can’t stop the puck from going in their own net, case and point, the 7-2 loss to the Blackhawks in Nov.16.
“I have to go back and watch the game, because it is confusing, to be honest with you,” Predators head coach Peter Laviolette said to Brooks Bratten of nashvillepredators.com. “I don’t think we gave up a whole bunch, and yet we found ourselves chasing the game the whole night. I have to go back and look and see what we can do better defensively… I don’t feel like it was wide-open hockey, I felt like we were pressing for most of the night and couldn’t buy a goal at the other end.”
It’s hard to lay blame on goaltenders at times because there are games where the netminder’s stats will suffer due to the quality of play from his teammates. However, while not every loss can be placed on Rinne, when comparing his numbers to those of Juuse Saros, it doesn’t exactly exonerate Rinne of all responsibility.
Since Oct. 29 the Predators’ backup has started three games and has played in six. During that stretch, the young Finn has a save percentage of .904 and a GAA of 2.75. Obviously, those aren’t staggering numbers by any standard, but they look significantly better than his predecessor’s right now.
During an 82-game season, odds are every team will face difficult patches where it seems like they will never win another game. Several facets of play just do not seem to be going right for the Predators right now. But, if the odds suggest that teams will encounter such tough times, odds are they will find their way out of it as well. It’s better for the Predators to experience this rough stretch now as opposed to in March or April. However, for the Predators to reacquaint themselves with the win column, their depth players and top-earning stars will have to find a way out of their personal ruts so the team can get out of theirs.
I graduated from Mount Royal University with a degree in Journalism with the hopes to pursue a career in sports media. I have been following hockey for many years at various different levels. Whether playing, watching or writing about it, hockey has played a massive role in my life. I was the sports editor at The Calgary Journal as well as a sports columnist for The Calgary Reflector. @A_Grant27