I always urge people not to look too deeply into first games. There are tons of pitfalls including, but not limited to, the tiny sample size. There’s not a lot that can truly be learned from one game, especially when it’s the only game we have to look at.
That said, besides a few minutes here and there, I’m not sure the Nashville Predators could’ve played a better game. There were some defensive blunders and questionable decisions made, but that pales in comparison to what the Predators did right. They dominated play at five on five, 57.89% of shot attempts, 52.17% of shots, and 60% of high danger scoring chances came from Nashville.
On top of that, Pekka Rinne was up to his old tricks as he covered for any mistake the defense might’ve made. The two goals, in my opinion, weren’t totally his fault but I’ll get more into that later.
So, let’s dive in. All stats are at five on five.
It’s only one game, so I’ll try not to be too excited but Matt Duchene looks as good as advertised. He and Granlund looked like they had instant chemistry while Forsberg looked as good as ever. The trio mostly saw the Wild’s second line but made quick work of them. Their team-leading expected goals was a testament to their ability to get shots from the soft areas of the ice. There really isn’t anything this line didn’t excel at.
The new JAS(?) line had a tricky night. It was clear Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Johansen missed their former linemate as far as transition goes, but they still looked good in the offensive zone. Putting Johansen with two high volume shooters will lead to great things, especially if the Duchene line starts to pull away the other team’s shutdown unit. For last night, Johansen’s group saw the shutdown line from Minnesota, but the SAJ(?) pulled through. Their limited ice time is a bit curious, but not something I’d look too far into.
I’m not sure how I feel about the bottom six. The Watson-Bonino-Sissons line was an interesting one. On one hand, Austin Watson scored a pretty nice shot (or tip), which really helped their expected goal numbers, but on the other hand, they gave up the Wild’s two best chances of the night. Mistakes happen, but those chances were partly due to bad breakout attempts by the trio. Still, they played well considering their assignment against the Wild’s third line. I’d be curious to see if their ice time stays as high in the future.
The fourth line was pretty bad. Kyle Turris had some good moments including a scoring chance, but he had no one to dish to. It’s only one game into the season, but from what I’ve seen over the 2018-19 season, I’m not sure that Eeli Tolvanen and/or Rem Pitlick would be better suited for his wings. No offense to Grimaldi or Jarnkrok, but they were easily the worst parts of the team last night. They still deserve a shot, but maybe not a prolonged one.
All in all, the top six was extraordinary while the bottom six weren’t terrible. And at the end of the day, isn’t that all you can really hope for?
I don’t really have much to say about Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis. They were excellent and looked as comfortable as they ever have. Their performance is exactly what I expected.
The Mattias Ekholm and Dante Fabbro pairing is fascinating to me. I think this pair is the correct one for Fabbro. He did play 10 games last season, but he’s basically a rookie. This first game showed that he was a little more confident with the puck on his stick, but he still has way more room to grow. He didn’t use his skating as much as I’d like and often deferred to Ekholm to make breakouts or other key plays. No offense to Ekholm, his gift is keeping other players out of the defensive zone, not exiting it himself. That said, he’s a great safety blanket for the rookie. I like this pairing going forward.
I’ve said this for the last 365 days but the third pairing is bad. They made a few glaring mistakes tonight and could’ve made even more if the Wild played with a competent forecheck. Of course, they could figure it out but Hamhuis is getting older and slower by the minute while Yannick Weber might never exit the defensive zone with possession ever again. It’s not a glaring issue, but replacing one of them would do wonders.
This game could’ve ended six to five for either team, but both goaltenders were on it. Devan Dubnyk had his spectacular somersault save against Granlund while Rinne made quite a few dandies. The one that sticks out to me was the save on Jason Zucker after the Predators scored their third goal.
The two goals that Rinne gave up were not necessarily his fault. The first was an absolute rocket that was tipped, which are notoriously hard for goaltenders. Especially when the tip doesn’t take any speed off the shot. The second goal was an absolute snipe that came from through two screens (the Wild player in front and the Predator who dove to block it).
Either way, Rinne was once again spectacular. Nothing else needs to be said about his performance.