It was a week that started strong for the Nashville Predators, but one that unfortunately came to a screeching halt. After defeating the Minnesota Wild and Ottawa Senators, outscoring the two teams 9-4, they dropped back-to-back decisions against the Florida Panthers and Pittsburgh Penguins over the weekend. Scavenging five of a possible eight points, the Predators remain in the first wild card spot in the Western Conference, with the Dallas Stars and Vegas Golden Knights following close behind with 86 and 84 points, respectively. There are now 10 games left, and it doesn’t appear they will clinch a playoff spot until the end of the regular season. To make matters worse, the teams ahead of them aren’t doing them any favors, as two of the top three teams in the Central Division are on extended winning streaks.
If there’s one thing head coach John Hynes can be satisfied with this season, it’s his big stars giving their best efforts at a consistent pace. Both Matt Duchene and Filip Forsberg sit at 38 goals each, a single-season franchise record, and either one can become the Predators’ first-ever 40-goal scorer at any time. Players like Ryan Johansen and Mikael Granlund are experiencing bounce-back seasons, and the youngsters on the blue line in Dante Fabbro and Alexandre Carrier are stepping into important roles, giving the team a well-rounded six-man rotation. On the surface, it appears everything is going well on individual levels, and all it takes now is for the team to pile up the wins and claw their way into the postseason.
The final three weeks of the season are here, and the Predators will play 10 games in 18 nights, and seven of those are against teams poised to make the playoffs. Nashville plays four games this week and will have a day of rest between each game, and the pressure is beginning to build on both the players and their fans. Before getting ahead of the action, let’s look at the past week’s biggest stories and rumors surrounding the team.
Roman Josi Breaks Paul Kariya’s Single-Season Point Record
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Roman Josi is doing it all this season. In a year where two players are challenging for the right to be the Predators’ first 40-goal scorer, and goaltender Juuse Saros battling it out with some of the best in the league for the most wins in the regular season, all eyes are on the Swiss defenseman. He’s not only shattering personal bests and franchise records, but he’s also making history and joining some Hall-of-Fame company.
His 11 multi-point games this season makes Josi the third defenseman in the last 30 years to accomplish this feat. The only two that have done so before him are Paul Coffey (12 in 1993-94) and Phil Housley (12 in 1992-93). The former has three Norris Trophies to his name while the latter led the league in goals among defensemen twice, and Josi might be adding a second Norris of his own if his pace holds up until the end of the month.
With his 68 assists and 87 points, Josi leads all defensemen in those two statistical categories, and he also shattered Paul Kariya‘s numbers from the 2005-06 season. That year, Kariya’s biggest competitor in terms of points was Steve Sullivan, who registered a respectable 68 points in 69 games, but the team couldn’t hold up in the playoffs, losing to the San Jose Sharks in five games. In the all-time Predators’ records, Josi’s 397 career assists sit atop the leaderboard, and the closest active member of Nashville’s roster is Forsberg, who sits far behind with 240. In terms of points, he sits 33 behind David Legwand but has also only played 200-plus fewer games. Given that he’s 31 and still has tons of hockey left in the tank, it’s only a matter of time before he blows past Legwand as well.
Despite going cold as of late, because five points in his last five games register in the freezing temperatures in terms of Josi’s expectations, he still sits 10 points ahead of Cale Makar in the race for points among defensemen. The Predators have 10 games remaining on the season, and he is 13 points away from reaching the 100-point plateau, so it will be interesting to see what coach John Hynes does with his ice time during the final stretch. Nashville still isn’t a lock to make the playoffs, so expect to see him log his usual ice time until the last game of the season.
Jeremy Lauzon Fits Predators’ Mold
Leading up to the trade deadline in March, there was an evident need to add to the Predators’ blue line, specifically the bottom pairing. Failed projects in Ben Harpur and Philippe Myers appeared to have expedited that urgency, leading to general manager David Poile spending a 2022 second-round pick to acquire defenseman Jérémy Lauzon from the Seattle Kraken. It was a steep price to pay, but a decision that has ultimately paid off. Lauzon’s emergence under the Predators’ system gives the coaching staff some much-needed flexibility in terms of on-ice management, providing the team with three reliable pairings.
In 10 games with the Predators this season, Lauzon is averaging 2:02 of ice time while shorthanded. Considering Matt Benning is currently out of the lineup and was the team’s third-most utilized defenseman on the penalty kill, Lauzon’s arrival couldn’t have come at a better time. Compared to many of the defensemen currently playing on the team, he’s one of the most disciplined, despite his physical game. Averaging 4.3 hits per game and remaining at a plus-3 rating despite starting 58 percent of his zone starts in the defensive end, he’s become a bright spot on the team’s backend since his debut in gold.
Unless he elects to head to arbitration, extending a qualifying offer to Lauzon would keep the 24-year-old restricted free agent to below $900k for at least one more year. He turns 25 at the end of this month, and his style of hockey blends well with Nashville’s system. Poile should consider re-signing him in the offseason, especially when Forsberg’s new deal is made public and he becomes one of the team’s highest-paid players. They will need to find ways to save money, and there’s no better way than getting another young, dependable defenseman locked up to a budget-friendly contract.
Checking in on the Admirals
The Milwaukee Admirals finished their week 2-1-0, drawing one point within the Manitoba Moose for second place in the Central Division. Their week included a back-to-back series against the Moose, which concluded with the two teams trading wins. Milwaukee had the last laugh, crushing Manitoba 7-2. The team then followed it up with a second win in as many nights, defeating the Cleveland Monsters 4-1. Though they sit one point behind the Moose in the standings, they have also played five more games. Manitoba will likely put some space between themselves and the Admirals by the season’s end, but the third-place position seems to be the spot they will end up in.
Forward Cody Glass continues to impress, amassing five points in three games, including back-to-back multi-point performances. Cole Schneider and Egor Afanasyev also registered multiple two-point nights, finishing the week off with four points in five games each, while Connor Ingram and Devin Cooley shared the crease and provided the team with stellar play. One player making the rounds in Milwaukee is Brayden Burke, acquired from the Los Angeles Kings for Frederic Allard. After registering 17 points in 31 games earlier this season with the Ontario Reign, the 25-year-old forward has nine assists in nine games with Milwaukee and is playing exceptionally well.
The Admirals have six games remaining on the season, spread across 17 days, which will allow the team adequate rest in preparation for a final push towards the postseason. Each game will be against a division rival and could determine who lands in the third and fourth place spots. With Ingram called up to fill in for Saros, who is out day-to-day, the Admirals will lean on Cooley to take control of the crease for the time being.
Luke Evangelista Reaches 54 Goals
Predators’ 2020 second-round pick Luke Evangelista is a goal-scoring machine that can’t be stopped, and the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) is being lit ablaze by the 20-year-old sensation. In 60 games with the London Knights, Evangelista has hit the back of the net 54 times, with 41 of his goals coming at even strength. His 50th goal celebration will go down as one of the most gentlemen-like reactions hockey fans will ever see, and he may have more in store with three games remaining on the season. Back in the 2008-09 season, a young John Tavares was traded from the Oshawa Generals to London and ended up scoring 32 goals in the final 24 games to finish with 58 on the season. Evangelista will have three games to match that total and join one of the greatest Knights’ forwards in franchise history.
Evangelista also finds himself in elite company when it comes to 50-goal scorers with London, joining the likes of Patrick Kane, Dave Bolland, and Christian Dvorak, who all went on to have decent NHL careers. He currently leads the OHL in goals and should be a top-five player in points by the season’s end. If the Predators are hoping for the best-case scenario, they’ll look to the only two other Nashville players to register 50 goals in one Canadian Hockey League (CHL) season, David Legwand and Alexander Radulov. Both players went on to have fantastic careers with the franchise, and Evangelista could be the next star to wear gold and navy blue.
Predators’ Quick Hits and Rumours
- In last week’s column, it was reported that Spencer Stastney signed a two-year, entry-level deal with Nashville. This past week, both he and Anthony Del Gaizo were signed by Milwaukee to amateur tryout contracts (ATO) for the remainder of the season.
- Redditor CoochieIllusion shared their take on the Predators’ jerseys in a series they call the “Refresh Series.” The four designs include home and away variants, along with alternate jerseys and a fourth style titled “Wild Card.”
- Hynes is currently in the final year of his contract, but if his record behind the bench is any indicator, count on him to be back next season. His style and the Predators lineup work well together, so it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that he’ll return in 2022-23.
- Tomas Vomacka will likely replace Ingram in Milwaukee following his call-up. Vomacka’s last game with the ECHL Florida Everblades was a 5-1 win in which he stopped 19 of 20 shots. The Everblades sit atop their division.
- As of this writing, the Predators hold the 20th overall pick at the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. According to Matthew Zator’s April rankings, that spot is held by Rögle BK J20 centre Marco Kasper. The Austrian forward has decent size and good skating, and he possesses excellent creativity and tenacity. For more about Kasper, check out his prospect profile page at The Hockey Writers.
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!)