Predators Weekly: Depth Scoring & Complete Games

Predators Weekly is my series on how the Nashville Predators performed the previous week. Generally published on Tuesdays, Predators Weekly isn’t simply a recap of games, but rather my takes on said games and the themes that emerged throughout the week. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts on how the team performed this week, your views on the week’s themes and any other ideas or questions you have about the team.

Related: Last Week’s Predators Weekly

Last week, I wrote that the Predators appeared to be finding their game more consistently. This week, they made me look like a fool by going 1-2-0. They went from one point up on the Winnipeg Jets to one point behind them and failed to put forth a complete effort in any of the games. This lack of a full 60-minute effort has been a storyline all season and it’s beginning to get alarming with the playoffs around the corner. On the bright side, it appears as though a productive second line may be emerging. Those themes and more will be covered in this week’s Predators Weekly. But first, the week that was.

The Week that Was

The Predators opened the week with a road matchup against the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 26. The Blues have been Nashville’s nemesis this season as they had won three of the four games entering this matchup. It didn’t get any easier for the Predators in last week’s game, either, as they lost 2-0.

Although the scoreboard read 2-0, it was a 1-0 game until an empty-netter padded St. Louis’ lead. However, the loss should have been much worse for the Predators. At five-on-five, they were outshot 38-15, including 9-1 in the second and 17-4 in the third. Only Rocco Grimaldi had a shots for percentage above 50 and all six defensemen were below 37 percent. The only reason they were in this game was Juuse Saros.

Juuse Saros Nashville Predators
Juuse Saros was the only reason the Predators were in their game against the St. Louis Blues. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Perhaps they were tired from playing the Edmonton Oilers the night before, but either way, the effort was unacceptable as Saros was left out to dry and had to make multiple 10-bell saves. Luckily, they don’t play the Blues anymore in the regular season. A positive from this game was that Wayne Simmonds looked good in his debut with the team. Although he didn’t register any points and his possession metrics weren’t good, he backchecked well, was sound positionally in the defensive zone and looked good in the net-front role on the power play.

Three nights later the Predators were in Winnipeg to take on the Jets. Another Central Division foe they’ve struggled against, they lost this game 5-3. This loss was particularly difficult because they had a 2-0 lead until 15:48 in the second period. However, the Jets scored four unanswered goals before Mattias Ekholm scored with a minute left in the game.

This game marked Mikael Granlund’s debut with the team and he tallied his first point with the club, registering a secondary assist on Ekholm’s goal. The Predators and Jets play once more in the regular season, a March 23 matchup in Winnipeg.

On March 3, the Predators wrapped up their week with a road matchup against the Minnesota Wild. It was Granlund’s first game against his former team and the first time the Predators faced Kevin Fiala. The Predators jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first period before the Wild scored two in the second period to take a 2-1 lead. Thankfully, Filip Forsberg picked a great time to break his five-game goalless streak to tie it with 4:19 left in the game. A scoreless overtime period led to a shootout and a successful attempt by Ryan Johansen in the fourth round salvaged a bad week.

Saros again received the start in goal, and was, again, excellent. He have may allowed two goals but he turned aside countless high-danger chances, including multiple breakaways. The Predators and Wild play twice more in the regular season, once each in Nashville and St. Paul.

Lack of 60-Minute Efforts

The Predators are a team that should be considered a Stanley Cup favorite, yet they look disinterested at times. Perhaps they’re waiting for the postseason to turn it on, but that’s a dangerous game to play. Some games they start out playing some of their best hockey only to allow their competition to crawl back in the second and third periods. Other games they look terrible from puck drop, forcing Pekka Rinne and Saros to bail them out before making a Herculean effort late in the game.

The Predators played two such games this week, against the Jets and Wild. In actuality they didn’t put forth a 60-minute effort in any of their three games this week, however, their game against the Blues was a whole other level of mediocrity.

As I mentioned in the week that was, the Predators jumped out to a two-goal lead against the Jets. That was great. Viktor Arvidsson netted his 27th goal of the season and P.K. Subban scored on the power play. That was all in the first 32 minutes of the game. Then a switch was flipped. In the first period, the Predators controlled scoring chances 8-6 and high-danger chances 4-2. They were, however, outshot 11-10.

Viktor Arvidsson Predators
Viktor Arvidsson scored his 27th goal of the season against the Jets. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In the second period, things swayed Winnipeg’s way as the Predators were outshot 15-11. They also lost the scoring chances battle. Then, in the third period, they figured out how to play hockey again and dominated the metrics: 73.9 percent of shots, 76.5 percent of scoring chances and 72.7 percent of high-danger chances.

Against the Wild, the opposite occurred. Despite the Predators jumping out to a 1-0 lead 5:21 into the game, the Wild controlled play in the first period. They dominated scoring chances 16-9 and also held the advantage in shots and high-danger chances. As the game wore on, the Predators slowly found their footing and took control as their metrics improved each period, eventually increasing to controlling 82.4 percent of shots, 78.6 percent of scoring chances and 80 percent control of high-danger chances.

These types of games in which the Predators are inconsistent are getting tiresome. Yes, it has to be difficult to get up game in and game out across an 82-game season, but it’s hard to pinpoint a game in which they gave a full effort this season. I’m not expecting them to win every game as the opponent has a factor in the game’s outcome, but I do think some solace could be found in a loss as long as a full effort is given. That’s just not happening this season. It’s gone on for 68 games now, and the team needs to make changes quickly, because they won’t last in the playoffs with their current effort.

Second Line Coming Together

At the start of the season, it looked like Nashville’s offense would be built around a great top line and productive depth. From the start of the season until the trade deadline, that never developed. Sure, their top line of Arvidsson, Forsberg and Johansen is great, and remains one of the most dangerous top lines in the league, but that’s all the team has had at forward. While there are individual players – Nick Bonino and Colton Sissons – who’ve stepped up in bottom-six roles, the majority of the players who were expected to produce on lines two through four haven’t.

Nashville Predators center Nick Bonino
Besides Nick Bonino (pictured) and Colton Sissons, the Predators haven’t received depth offense this season. (Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports)

Craig Smith has 16 goals and 29 points, Kyle Turris has seven goals and 21 points, Kevin Fiala had 10 goals and 32 points before he was dealt and Ryan Hartman had 10 goals and 20 points before he too was traded. All four were or are thought of as potential top-six options and all four underperformed for the majority of the season. It appears as though that might be changing.

For much of the season the second line has consisted of Turris, Smith and one of Fiala or Calle Järnkrok and the results haven’t been there. Since the trade deadline, when the Predators added Brian Boyle, Granlund and Simmonds, a new second line consisting of Granlund, Smith and Turris has emerged.

In the Predators’ game against the Wild, that line was put together in Smith’s first game off injured reserve. They played 8:43 together at five-on-five and dominated possession metrics: 76.9 shots for percentage, 60 percent control of scoring chances and 71.4 percent control of high-danger chances. While it is a small sample size, the three work well together. All three play strong two-way games and play slightly different offensive styles.

Smith is the speedy winger who often carries the puck into the offensive zone, Granlund is the dynamic puck handler who makes the opposition look silly and Turris is a strong puck distributor. Since Granlund took Fiala’s spot in the lineup, the Predators’ second line looks better. I think this is because while both players play a similar style, Granlund is slightly better in all elements. He’s the better puck handler, the better passer and is the bigger threat to create a scoring chance.

Nashville Predators Mikael Granlund
Mikael Granlund has fit in well on Nashville’s second line. (David Berding-USA TODAY Sports)

The best part of the line’s emergence is that it properly slots the bottom-six, as well. It means that Simmonds plays on the third line with Bonino and Järnkrok and the fourth line is left with Boyle and some combination of Grimaldi, Sissons, Frédérick Gaudreau and Miikka Salomäki. It allows the opportunity for offense to occur on every forward line. If that is the case, and each line gels, it could bode well for the team come playoff-time.

News, Top Performers and the Week Ahead

As mentioned above, Smith was activated off injured reserve for the Predators’ game versus the Wild. In other injury news, Boyle missed that game with a lower-body injury but it appears he’s just day-to-day. Additionally, Dan Hamhuis and Salomäki remain on injured reserve.

Top Performers

  • Filip Forsberg: 1 goal, 1 assist
  • Ryan Ellis: 2 assists
  • Juuse Saros: 2 games played, 1-1-0 record, stopped 66 of 69 shots, .957 save percentage, 1.44 goals-against average

The Week Ahead

  • March 5: vs. Minnesota Wild
  • March 9: vs. Carolina Hurricanes

*All stats are from Hockey-Reference and Natural Stat Trick