When it was announced that leading scorer Filip Forsberg would miss 4-6 weeks with an upper-body injury, Predators head coach Peter Laviolette knew it would take some lineup reshuffling to keep Nashville at or near the top of the standings.
Having lost four of six from Dec. 19- Jan. 4, the Preds were seemingly battling adversity for the first time this season. Since that 3-2 overtime loss to the Coyotes on Jan. 4, Nashville is on a five-game win streak – all one-goal games.
“I’m really happy with it, just based on some of the injuries, and I’m not using that as an excuse, because we won the games,” Laviolette said. “But more I think just to the character in the room and the people who are stepping up, whether it be Nick Bonino or Calle Jarnkrok or Colton Sissons or Hartnell chipping in goals or Bitetto and Irwin coming in and playing big minutes for us.
“It’s just that mindset that somebody’s got to step up and do it. I think through the five games that’s probably what catches me the most is that through a little bit of adversity our guys handled it really well.”
In Saturday’s 4-3 win over the Florida Panthers, Nashville got significant contributions from a newly auditioned line of Kevin Fiala, Nick Bonino and Calle Jarnkrok. Fiala scored two goals, Bonino added a goal and two assists, and Jarnkrok chipped in with three helpers.
“I think guys are moving around because of the absence of Filip,” Laviolette said. “We’re trying to put together lines that we think can score. Tonight, the (Bonino-Fiala-Jarnkrok) line was a really good line. I thought Calle had a terrific game as well, so that line was dynamic offensively for a lot of their shifts.”
“I’ve been waiting for a game like this for a while,” Bonino added. “I think a lot of times I’m passing and it just hasn’t gone in the net. It gets frustrating, but as long as I’m winning faceoffs, blocking shots and contributing in other areas, you can’t get too down on yourself. And tonight, obviously, it’s nice to see the puck go in a few times.”
Since the November trade that brought Kyle Turris to Nashville, Fiala had been arguably the Preds best player. With the departure of James Neal in the offseason, Fiala was looked to as the replacement for Neal’s perennial 20 goals.
With his two-goal performance against the Panthers, Fiala now has 13 goals through 44 games – a new career-high. Fiala is currently on pace to score 24 goals, and more importantly he is showing he can put the puck in net without Turris.
“Kevin’s on a roll right now with regard to offense,” Laviolette said. “It seems like whatever line he goes on, that line is a pretty good line. Even last game, when he was with Johansen, I thought he did a good job.”
“I think everybody worked hard,” Fiala added. “I think sometimes with new lines, we’ve never played together once, it can just work. It worked today for sure and it was just great to play. I enjoyed it a lot.
“I think both (Bonino and Jarnkrok) are great players. Those are two-way players – great offense and defense – and they work hard. I think if you work hard, you get so many more chances. You’re going to get the puck back and create more chances, and that’s what we did today.”
Fiala and Jarnkrok playing on a line with Bonino has afforded Laviolette the opportunity to move winger Pontus Aberg around in the lineup. Aberg was slotted in Fiala’s old spot on the second line with Turris and Craig Smith – a lineup that appears to be paying off, at least for right now.
“It’s an opportunity for Pontus,” Laviolette said. “His year probably hasn’t gone the way he wanted. I think coming off of last year where he was a contributor for our team and it factored into the playoffs at times.
“I’m trying to make the most of his efforts on the ice by trying to surround him with players of his skill set where he can contribute, and like I said, it probably hasn’t gone quite the way he wanted, but I think a lot of times with young players you’ve got to put them in those situations to try and be successful.”