The Nashville Predators couldn’t have asked for a better result to end a rollercoaster ride of a week. Picking up their 17th road win of the season, head coach John Hynes got a six-goal performance from the same club that gave up seven against the St. Louis Blues one night prior. A pair of goals from Filip Forsberg and Roman Josi sealed their fate, defeating the Minnesota Wild 6-2 on Sunday night, bringing them into a tie for third place in the Central Division and widening their gap between themselves and the teams that trail behind. It was important for the Predators to not only walk away with two points but prevent the Wild from earning any at all.
A pair of wins against the Dallas Stars and Anaheim Ducks kicked off the week, and securing four points against two teams trailing closely behind them in the standings brought spirits up, but a devastating loss to the St. Louis Blues left a bitter taste in the mouths of the Predators players. Giving up five goals against, and another two into an empty net, it was one of the worst showings of the season.
While the score was embarrassing enough on its own merit, the loss also allowed the Blues to strengthen their grip on second place in the division. Nashville remains four points behind them, while the Colorado Avalanche have their foot firmly pressed on the gas pedal, sitting comfortably in first place with 89 points. The week ended with the team in gold, navy blue, and white taking six of a possible eight points, and the week ahead will feature three games. Here are some of the biggest stories and rumours surrounding the team from the last seven days.
Forsberg and Duchene Reach 30
This season, some of the highest-paid players on the team’s roster are tapping into their scoring potential and are leading the charge statistically. Both Matt Duchene and Forsberg have hit the 30-goal plateau this season, tied for the team lead with 31 each. This marks the first time the Predators have iced a 30-goal scorer since Viktor Arvidsson reached 34 in 82 games during the 2018-19 season. It’s also the first time since the 2016-17 season that the team has two players reaching the threshold when Forsberg and Arvidsson finished the season with 31 goals each. With 23 games remaining, there’s a strong possibility that the Predators might see their first 40-goal scorer in franchise history.
When Duchene joined the Predators in the summer of 2019, expectations were immediately set very high. He was coming off a 70-point season with the Ottawa Senators and Columbus Blue Jackets, and five goals and five assists in 10 playoff games, closing out one of the most productive seasons of his career. His seven-year contract was one he earned, and the belief was he’d step into a top-six role and put up big numbers. For the first two seasons, this wasn’t the case as the forward was held to 19 goals and 55 points in 100 games combined with his new team. An injury last season took him out for most of March and half of April, but his numbers across the board were down. This season, he’s returned to form, living up to the contract he earned three years ago and pushing towards career-high numbers.
Related: Panthers Should Have Filip Forsberg as a Trade Target
For Forsberg, he’s no stranger to hitting this mark. Having scored 30 goals or more twice already in seven full seasons with the team, he came close to making it three times before this season back in 2018-19 when he scored 28 in 64 games. He’s not only currently on pace to shatter his career-highs in goals, assists, and points, he’s also projecting to become the first 40-goal scorer in franchise history. That is, of course, if Duchene doesn’t reach the goal line first. The idea of having two players on the team reach this mark when no Predators player has ever done so speaks volumes to both the talent level they are icing this year and the stylistic choices behind Hynes’ way of coaching his top-six rotation.
Josi Making Case For Norris
One week after recording his 500th career point, Josi reached 66 points on the season, tying J.P. Dumont’s 2006-07 total. Currently, he is the only defenseman in Predators’ history to reach the 60-point plateau, and he’s done it three times already, twice as the team’s captain. Leading all defensemen in the league in terms of points, he is on pace to become the first player in team history to reach 80 points since Paul Kariya closed out 2005-06 with 85 points. What’s even more impressive is that at his current pace, he could even surpass Kariya and take over the best single-season point total in the team’s history. He has 11 points in his last five games and is 19 points shy of 85 with 23 games to play.
“Results are good. I need to have goals. But you have to enjoy the whole process, enjoy the everyday. That’s the emphasis this year,” Josi said in a feature for The Score last month. The visual side of the game has always been his greatest strength. The way he sees the ice, how he finds his teammates with crisp passes, and his ability to find open skating lanes to handle the puck and take it to the net are all assets that make him one of the most complete defensemen of his era. Amazingly, he’s only won a single Norris Trophy to date, but with the likes of Victor Hedman, Drew Doughty, Brent Burns, and up-and-coming blueliners like Cale Makar and Adam Fox, he has no shortage of competition for the trophy every year.
Should Josi maintain his current pace and hit his current projection of an 88-point season, not only will he take over the most points in a single season by any Predators player, but he also will become the first defenseman to hit 80 points since Burns did it back in the 2018-19 season. He currently leads the league in power-play goals and power-play points while playing the 12th-most amount of minutes among defensemen, averaging 25:10 per game. It’ll be a tight race considering Makar is having an excellent season once again, and a few other names are hitting the 50-point mark while logging more minutes per game. All Josi can do in the next month and a half is be the player he’s been since the start of the season, and he’ll give himself the best opportunity at winning his second Norris Trophy of his career.
Mathieu Olivier’s Bloody Fight
In American Hockey League (AHL) news, 25-year-old Mathieu Olivier made the rounds last week in a way you’d expect him to. During last Friday’s contest against the Rockford IceHogs, he and Kurtis Gabriel dropped the gloves in what turned out to be a heated battle. As both players exchanged blows, Olivier began to turn the tables heavily on his slightly-larger opponent, delivering four-to-five whopping blows. As the two spun around, attempting to get a better hold over the other, blood began to pour out of Gabriel’s face. It was evident that a couple of heavy shots delivered had opened up a large gash, and Gabriel likely required some stitches to close up the wound.
In 29 games this season with the Milwaukee Admirals, he has three goals and four assists, but what he lacks in scoring, he more than makes up for in physicality. He received an eight-game stint with the Predators earlier this season, but with the rise of rookies like Philip Tomasino and Tanner Jeannot, and the forward group as a whole remaining relatively healthy, Olivier fell down the depth charts rather quickly. Primarily used as a right-winger, there’s very little chance he gets another look at the NHL level unless the Predators run into some injury troubles down the stretch. With Luke Evangelista playing with the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) London Knights as a 20-year-old and possibly making the AHL next season, Olivier will likely find himself falling further down that depth chart. He’ll have one year remaining on his current contract, paying him $750,000 next season.
Zachary L’Heureux Suspended One Game
In unfortunate news, Predators’ 2021 first-round pick Zachary L’Heureux received a one-game suspension earlier this week for his participation in a scrappy affair against the Sherbrooke Phoenix. On March 10, midway through the third period, he and Sherbrooke goaltender Jakob Robillard got into a shoving match after a whistle, leading L’Heureux to receive a five-minute major and a game misconduct. Due to the nature of the misconduct, officially labelled as an aggressor penalty, the one-game suspension he received was almost guaranteed, per Rule 47.2 of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) rulebook.
Predators’ Quick Hits And Rumours
- As per Elliotte Friedman’s 32 Thoughts, during Poile’s weekly radio appearance with ESPN 102.5 in Nashville, he revealed there was no progress to report regarding Forsberg and his current contract status.
- Predators signed 6-foot-4 forward Navrin Mutter to a three-year entry-level contract. He’ll remain with the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL for the rest of the season. He played in three games with the AHL’s Stockton Heat last year, while the OHL was shut down due to COVID-19 protocol, and could play for Milwaukee as early as next season.
- Alex Campbell, Nashville’s third-round pick (65th overall) in 2019, was named to the ECAC 2022 First-Team All-League. The Chateauguay-native is currently second in points among Clarkson University players with 31 in 33 games, and he led all ECAC Hockey players in scoring during conference games.
- Jachym Kondelik, their 2018 fouth-round pick (11th overall), was named this year’s Hockey East best defensive forward.