The Nashville Predators have toyed with a number of forward line combinations in the top six, but they may have struck gold with their latest trio of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson.
Those three were involved in both of the Predators’ goals in a 2-0 shutout of the Edmonton Oilers.
So, what’s the secret behind this line’s success?
“Well, we’re all really good looking,” Johansen joked with reporters after the game. “That kind of says it all.”
Looks aside, Johansen thought his linemates’ individual skill sets complement each other really well.
“All of us bring something different to the table,” he said. “Me and Forsberg have the big size, and like to hold on to pucks, protect pucks, and can use that. Arvi, obviously, we know how speedy he is and can create space with his work ethic and when his legs are moving. A lot of talent in those two, it’s a lot of fun playing with them, I’m sure it is for fans and you guys watching.”
Johansen’s goal late in the second period was a thing of beauty. Forsberg took the puck in the offensive end and managed to work the puck through multiple Oilers defensemen before dishing to Arvidsson, who put a beautiful pass cross-ice to Johansen, who buried the puck in the open net to put the Predators up by two.
It was as perfect as they come in the NHL.
“I mean, you look at both the passes and they were perfect, right in the wheelhouse, executed to how you’d want it,” Johansen said. “I had a wide-open net, there’s not many chances throughout seasons and games where you have opportunities like that. Arvi set me up perfectly.”
Forsberg’s incredible play to work the puck through numerous Oilers also caught Johansen’s eye.
“I haven’t tried that in my whole NHL career, so for a guy to have confidence going up against NHL defensemen and being able to pull that stuff off is impressive,” he said. “Even as his linemate, watching that, he really does have an elite level of talent.”
While Forsberg, Johansen and Arvidsson are all having stellar seasons individually, the numbers show they’ve played some of their best hockey on the ice together. According to stats.hockeyanalysis.com, the Predators have a Corsi for percentage (ratio of shot attempts for and against) of 60.6% when Arvidsson and Forsberg are on the ice together, while they have a 59.9% Corsi for percentage when Arvidsson and Johansen are on the ice together. Compare that to 53.8% when Arvidsson is on the ice without Forsberg and 49.8% when apart from Johansen.
In addition, Nashville has a 57.5% Corsi for percentage with Johansen and Forsberg on the ice together, but it drops to 50.2% when Forsberg plays without Johansen.
Head coach Peter Laviolette said this chemistry that has developed between these three has not been instantaneous. Johansen and Forsberg had played plenty together before, but once Arvidsson came into the mix, the coaching staff watched as this unit came together as a cohesive scoring threat.
“I think you try something and you look for it to work, we tried to stay patient with it,” Laviolette said. “I think the biggest factor in it, not to take anything away from Filip and Joey, because they’re playing excellent right now, but I think it’s just the fact that Viktor has evolved into the player that he is. Now, he’s getting an opportunity to try and find some chemistry over time.”
Arvidsson got the scoring started midway through the second period with an incredible burst of speed to get space at the right circle followed by a massive clapbomb that whizzed by goaltender Cam Talbot. It broke a scoreless tie in an otherwise slower affair, given how fast these two teams usually are.
Forsberg got the assist on that goal, his first of two assists on the night. Arvidsson noted how well the three forwards can pass between each other.
“I think we find each other really well on the ice,” Arvidsson said. “I think Joey is strong on the puck and he is a great passer and Filip can do anything with it. He can beat anyone one-on-one, he’s tried to work hard and try to get pucks to them and try to shoot when I had the chance. It’s really fun to play with them.”
As the Predators continue to push towards the playoffs, this top unit could be the stalwart of the team. And, as Johansen put it, each game with Forsberg and Arvidsson on his wings can bring something different.
“You kind of never know what’s going to happen out there,” Johansen said. “They’re so talented and I’m always kind of expecting the unexpected from them. It’s been fun lately having some success together and hopefully we can continue that.”
Nashville gets back on the ice this Saturday night as they take on an old rival, the Detroit Red Wings at Bridgestone Arena.