If the Nashville Predators can find a silver lining to the week that was, it’s that they secured three of a possible six points. Managing to hold off the Calgary Flames by a score of 3-2 and stealing a point against the Minnesota Wild gave the Predators hope of holding on to their wild card spot. Unfortunately, the Vegas Golden Knights remain close behind, trailing by just four points, and the Vancouver Canucks remain statistically involved. It’s anyone’s game, and it will likely come down to the last game of the season.
Those hopes received a dose of reality after dropping a 6-2 loss to the defending Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning. It was a wake-up call that the team and head coach John Hynes needed, and one they’ll carry into the final three games. They’ll face the Flames one more time, followed by back-to-back games against the Colorado Avalanche and Arizona Coyotes. While they remain in a playoff spot, it’s anything but comfortable, and winning out will be the only thing that guarantees them a seat at the Stanley Cup table.
Fortunately, this rollercoaster of a season has seen some bright spots and some even better stories, and that trend continued last week. Before the Predators close up their season, here are some of the details coming out of the second-to-last week of the 2021-22 regular season.
Duchene and Forsberg Hit 40 Goals
In 24 years, the Predators never had a 40-goal scorer. Viktor Arvidsson came close during the 2018-19 season when he notched 34 in 58 games. Had it not been for a broken thumb that cost him a good chunk of the season, he likely would have been the first. This season, the Predators not only had one player score 40 but two. One player is in a contract year, and the city of Nashville is waiting with bated breath for his re-signing, while the other is enjoying a bounce-back season. Filip Forsberg and Matt Duchene won’t rest until their playoff season is secured, but both can feel a sense of pride.
On April 19, Duchene registered his 40th goal in the eventual 3-2 shootout win against the Flames. He made Predators history by becoming the first to do so, and it also marked his first career 40-goal season. He reached the 30-goal plateau twice in his career, but after a slow start in the new city, many wondered about his future with the team. When general manager David Poile left him exposed in the expansion draft, it only amplified rumors of his inevitable departure before the conclusion of his multi-year deal. While his dollar value remains on the high end, his nine multi-goal games, and one hat trick this year give hope that he’s turning things around.
At 27, Forsberg became the Predators’ all-time goal-scoring leader, surpassing David Legwand’s 210 goals. While he reached at least 30 goals on two occasions, concern arose about his injury problems, cutting several seasons short. Of his last five seasons, including this one, Forsberg hasn’t played a full year since 2016-17, but something about this year changed. Beyond his four-goal game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Forsberg scored eight goals in nine games in January, and another 10 in 14 games in March. Although April is quiet, amassing half of his totals in a two-month span certainly helps.
With two top-line players reaching 40, and Ryan Johansen and Tanner Jeannot netting 24 each, the offense spreading around makes Nashville a dangerous team to oppose. It seems only fitting for them to make the playoffs this year, after all of the individual performances, and it’s long overdue for some of the veterans on the team to win their first Stanley Cup.
It’s Josi’s Norris Trophy to Lose
Before the turn of the calendar year, talks about the Norris Trophy heavily favoured the likes of Cale Makar and Adam Fox, and rightfully so. The two youngsters experienced excellent starts to their seasons, separating from the pack of defensemen in terms of points. Enter Roman Josi‘s 2022 form, and the talk quickly turned gears. Josi not only went on a tear, but he also took the entire league by storm and turned heads by putting up numbers only seen a handful of times in NHL history. Being held off the scoresheet only twice in February and once in March, he hit 11 multi-point games on the year, becoming just the third defenseman to do so in the last 30 years, following Phil Housley and Paul Coffey.
He was named the first star of the week in the NHL in the third week of March, and by the end of the month, he earned the league’s first star of the month. His 28 points in March place him in third all-time among points recorded by a defenseman in a calendar month, trailing only Coffey (29 points in 14 games) and Bobby Orr (31 points in 15 games). While March concluded with a 13-game point streak for Josi, a career-best for him, he also took down the Predators’ single-season point record. He may not have single-handedly carried the team on his back this season, but he certainly served as the ring leader.
Barring any outbreak from Makar, it’s Josi’s Norris Trophy to lose. He leads all defensemen in assists and points, and sits in second for goals with 21. He not only leads all defensemen in even-strength points, but also power-play goals and power-play points, cementing his legacy as this year’s specialist with the man advantage. He may come up short in his quest to reach 100 points on the season, but he’ll cross the line as the winner of his second Norris Trophy in the last three years.
Checking in on the Admirals
The American Hockey League’s (AHL) Milwaukee Admirals went 1-2-0 on the week, but at this point it’s all about remaining healthy and shaking off any tendencies before the start of the playoffs. With a spot locked down for the postseason, there isn’t much to play for other than pride, so their 4-1 loss to the Texas Stars and 6-2 loss to the Manitoba Moose doesn’t hurt their overall standing too much. Cole Schneider scored two goals in three games, and Cody Glass returned to the Admirals’ lineup after a brief stint in Nashville. All signs point towards a promising postseason, but what remains to be seen is who they’ll face in the first round.
Pending the results of the final few games on the season for both the Admirals and the Rockford IceHogs, they could play a three-game first-round matchup against either Texas or the Iowa Wild. Should Milwaukee win the final game of the season, they’ll instead play the Manitoba Moose in the Divisional Semifinals, which is a best of five. Should Rockford win two of their last three and Milwaukee lose their last game, the Admirals would lose the first tie-breaker of regulation wins. If both teams finish the year with the same amount of regulation wins, Milwaukee wins the second tie-breaker of regulation and overtime wins.
Of course, they’ll put themselves in a better spot if they win their final game. If they play in the three-game series, winning that round places them into a Divisional Semifinals against the Chicago Wolves, the most dangerous team in the AHL. Chicago has 48 wins on the season this year, and is one of the best offensive teams in terms of goals-for, while allowing the third-lowest amount of goals.
Luke Evangelista’s Quiet Start in OHL Playoffs
During the regular season, Luke Evangelista took the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) by storm. With 55 goals and 111 points in 62 games, he was unstoppable. From his gentleman handshake celebration after scoring his 50th, to his calm demeanor and poise with the puck, there was a lot to admire about the way he played.
As the playoffs rolled around, though, the game became tighter, and it was clear that Evangelista stumbled out of the gate. He was held off the scoresheet in back-to-back games in the opening round against the Kitchener Rangers, which only happened once to him during the entire regular season. He’s scored at such a rapid pace it’s almost baffling to see him not register a single point.
It’s not like his game changed or his competitive nature dropped. Evangelista recorded eight shots on net in his first two games combined, and he was all over the ice. Game three was the sigh of relief he needed, scoring a goal and adding an assist in a 3-2 victory and taking a 2-1 series lead. Watching him score from the right-side face-off circle was akin to what fans watched him do during the 2021-22 season, and hopefully it’s a sign of things to come as the series continues. Perhaps the news of him being the Knights’ nominee for the Red Tilson Trophy as the OHL’s Most Outstanding Player will serve as extra motivation.
Predators’ Quick Hits and Rumours
- Juuse Saros celebrated his 27th birthday on April 19 with a 3-2 shoot-out victory over the Flames, stopping 19 of 21 shots and standing tall against all three Calgary shooters.
- According to Anthony Di Marco of The Fourth Period, a source close to the Philadelphia Flyers was asked if former Predators’ defenseman Ryan Ellis wants to be in Philadelphia, to which he received a response, “That’s what I wonder.”
- Reddit user bielvr__ shared a unique art concept on the Predators’ subreddit. The idea is soccer-inspired jerseys of all NHL clubs, and Nashville’s submission are fantastic.
- The Predators will open their 2022-23 season by headlining the NHL Global Series. They’ll take on the San Jose Sharks in Bern, Prague, the hometown of Josi.
- Team photo day was April 21, and the boys had a blast taking selfies between shots. The two MVPs were Josi, who was the one responsible for taking the selfies, and Matt Benning, who took it upon himself to photo bomb every picture with a hilarious expression.
Covering the Nashville Predators. I work for a company called SPORTLOGiQ and have loved the game of Hockey for over three decades. I’m obsessed with advanced analytics and pair that with my love for the eye test – i.e. watching the games (I DO that too!)