Coming out of the All Star Break, the Nashville Predators were locked in a tight playoff race with the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche. Since then, they’ve left Minnesota and Colorado in their rearview mirror and are relatively safe in the top wild card spot. A big reason for this turnaround is the play of Nashville’s second line: Filip Forsberg, Mike Ribeiro and Craig Smith.
Those three players are three of the top four forwards on the team in terms of points, with Forsberg on top with 53 points. Ribeiro has chipped in with 40 assists, tied for most on the team and the most of any forward by a long shot. Smith is also having himself a solid year as well with 32 points in 72 games.
Perhaps the reason this line works so well is that the players complement each other so nicely. Ribeiro is a pass-first center with the ability to get the puck tape-to-tape and set up scoring opportunities. Forsberg is a dynamic shooter with soft hands and the ability to make plays happen. Finally, Smith is somewhere in between, with great shooting and great speed, and the ability to make a nice pass when needed. Smith spoke to this chemistry after practice on Sunday.
“I use my speed to get to pucks and disrupt the play,” he said. “I think I have a chance to slow down their defensemen to make them second guess a pass, and Ribeiro and Forsberg are able to pick off pucks and make plays. We go from there.”
Forsberg also acknowledged how his unit clicks on the ice and gave a special nod to Ribeiro’s ability to pass the puck.
“I think, first of all, all three of us just want to play offensive hockey, and that’s perfect,” he said. “Ribeiro is a tremendous disher, he really works hard. I just try to hold on to the puck for them.”
He also said that much of the success the Predators have had lately stems from the defensive end, not necessarily just from his line’s offensive prowess.
“I think defensively we’ve played really solid, obviously we’ve gotten really good goaltending from both goalies,” Forsberg said.”That leads to good offense as well.”
Forsberg also went as far as to credit his linemates for his success this season when asked if Ribeiro and Smith make him more comfortable on the ice.
“For sure they make me more comfortable,” he said. “Obviously, the success I’ve been having is all because of them, so it’s been clicking for us so far.”
Head coach Peter Laviolette credited his team’s turnaround to the productivity of the Forsberg-Ribeiro-Smith line, and liked the way that unit plays together. Laviolette also noted that his other lines started heating up after that second line lit the spark.
“They’ve been good,” he said. “Back a few games ago, they were hot for a month or so. They were really putting the puck in the net, generating a lot of offense. They’ve got good chemistry together. They’ve played together before. They’ve been a big reason why we’ve been able to turn it around. But, what I like now is that we’re getting contributions from everybody, and that’s going to be important down the stretch.”
Even though other lines are now putting the puck in the net, it will likely be the Forsberg-Ribeiro-Smith line that has to lead the way. According to Forsberg, they can do just that by really not changing anything.
“We just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” he said. “Just try to skate a lot, play with a lot of speed, and that’s the biggest thing for us.”
Photo credit: Christina McCullough