Innovation and creativity were the names of the game for the Nashville Predators on Sunday night as they earned a 5-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks at Bridgestone Arena.
Center Kyle Turris became the latest key Predator to go on injured reserve on Sunday, joining winger Viktor Arvidsson and defenseman P.K. Subban. Without three of their top contributors on the ice, the Predators went wild with their line combinations, sliding Austin Watson up to the first line with Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen.
However, at random intervals during the game, Watson would slide to the third line alongside Nick Bonino and Colton Sissons, reuniting a line that was a juggernaut in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
It was in those moments of jumbling and scrambling that the Predators capitalized in this game, as Watson opened the scoring in the first period off a face-off alongside Bonino and Sissons. Early in the second period, Bonino put home a fantastic wrist shot form the left circle with Sissons and Watson on the ice.
Watson also took plenty of shifts with the top line, and scored his second of the game on the power play with both Johansen and Forsberg on the ice. When Watson was playing with Bonino and Watson, Ryan Hartman got his chances with the top line, and vice versa.
It was all part of a plan for the Predators to find the best matchups possible against a tough Ducks team.
“I think it’s just trying to keep both people involved,” head coach Peter Laviolette said of Watson and Hartman. “Sometimes, if it goes to the defensive zone, we can move Watty in to there. Sometimes in the offensive zone, you can move Ryan. They knew that going into the game that it was going to be the plan tonight that they would each get some ice time out there. I thought they both did a real good job.”
Overall, Watson took 13 even-strength shifts with Forsberg and Johansen and four with Bonino and Sissons, yet two out of the four goals Watson was on the ice for in this game came with Bonino and Sissons at his side.
“He was net-front power play, scoring at the end of the game where we count on him to win hockey games,” said Johansen of Watson. “He’s a player that the sky’s the limit for, and I think we see that in here, but it’s good to see our fans and the hockey world seeing him come out and do what he’s capable of.”
That type of game-planning and matchup-oriented style of play primarily came about because the Predators could not roll their typical four lines at full strength due to injury. They would have had no reason to break up a fully healthy top line, even against a heavy team like the Ducks. With a banged-up roster, the Predators turned to a more intelligent, tactical strategy in order to withstand it and win this game.
With a plenty of home games coming up in the next few weeks, the Predators will be able to use this strategy time and time again, as they’ll continue to have the last line change as the home team.
“Every guy has played on every line it seems,” said Bonino. “With Arvi going out, there’s guys that need to fill that void. It’s hard to do with one guy, but Sissons has been up there, Harty has been up there, Watty has been up there. Whoever’s not there is usually with me, so we’re just trying to make good plays. I think an advantage of our team is our depth. It’s something that no matter who’s out, we find a way and we need that now because we’ve got some guys out.”
The Predators continue their homestand on Tuesday night against the Colorado Avalanche.