“There was a lot of talk in the beginning of the year because we weren’t scoring goals,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. “At some point through the course of the year, you are battling something. There’s always something to coach up in the locker room and address with the players, and you hope for a good response. Sometimes, you just get in a funk with something and it’s not working.”
Enter Kyle Turris.
Since the addition of the 6-foot-1 center in early November, the Preds have been playing like a completely different team. Prior to Turris’ arrival, Nashville was averaging a meager 2.6 goals per game. However, in the five games with Turris in the lineup, the Preds have been averaging five goals per game – including five straight games with four or more goals.
“I think it’s going great,” forward Kevin Fiala said. “The last few games have been going great and we continue to work hard. I feel great with them (Turris and Smith). Both are hard workers and very skilled and they’re great.”
The most noticeable improvements over the last handful of games has come from the second line of Fiala, Turris and Craig Smith – producing 16 points in five games. Turris has scored two goals and five points, while Fiala broke out of his goal-scoring slump with two goals and four assists and Smith found the back of the net three times in that span. All three have also had two multi-point games.
“With Kyle coming into the lineup, he’s a very offensive guy and that changed the whole team and the lines of our offense,” Fiala said. “We are changing our mindset and playing more offense. We are attacking the game and that’s what we are doing now to find success.”
The addition of Turris has given Fiala a true, playmaking center to work with. With his new centerman, the 21-year-old winger nearly doubled his points from seven to 13 and has seemed to grow in confidence with each passing game.
“We talk about it almost every game because it’s noticeable,” Laviolette said. “Inside of that, a player can get confidence when they start to see some production on the offensive side. Since that line has been together, there hasn’t been a game where they haven’t done their share to try and create offense. I think Kyle is a big piece of that.”
Not only has Fiala appeared to find another gear lately, so has Smith. The 28-year-old is having a fine bounce-back season after a disappointing 2016, where he only scored 12 goals and 29 points. At his current pace, Smith is on track for 28 goals, which would be a new career-high, and 41 points.
“Also, I think Craig Smith playing the way he has consistently from the start of the year, Kevin gets going and he starts to collect a few points — I really think that builds character inside a player,” Laviolette said.
The threat of two legitimate scoring lines has allowed the Predators to ease some of the pressure off the heralded JOFA line. With a bounty of offensively skilled players, Laviolette has been able to tinker with different power play units as well– a team strength as of late.
Mattias Ekholm has been a beneficiary of his new power play role. Ekholm became the first defenseman in Preds history to score a goal in four straight games. He is also the first defenseman to score a goal in four consecutive games since Brent Burns in Feb. 2016.
“Shooting the puck, I guess, and playing on a really good power play unit with Kyle Turris and Roman Josi,” Ekholm said of what has allowed him to score so frequently. “Kevin Fiala is really good in the middle, and Colton Sissons in front of the net, so credit to those guys for giving me the opportunity to shoot the puck.
“We’re shooting it and we’re recovering it too. It makes them be out of position and out of plays. As long as we keep on shooting and creating and getting in that offensive zone and firing pucks, I think we will keep scoring goals.”
“He’s a great player,” Laviolette added about Ekholm. “I think what we’re seeing is that he’s got a good shot from the point right now. He’s getting some power-play time and he’s really bringing the hammer from the weak side of the ice. It’s good for him. He’s done a really good job fitting in on the power play. I think the power plays looked really good in the last 10 games or so. We’ve been able to produce and score some goals, and he’s a big part of that. He’s a 200-foot player both ways and playing very well.”