Through eleven games this year, the Nashville Predators are 8-3-0 with 16 points. It has certainly been an interesting start – so let’s take a look at what is good, and more importantly, what isn’t good.
I Like It
Roman Josi hasn’t been excruciatingly productive offensively, but one would be remiss to overlook his efforts. He is the best skating defenseman, and possesses the ability to take the puck deep into the zone. He does not turn the puck over much, if at all. Josi has traditionally been a streaky player offensively, and a sturdy defensive player. He can generate offense if need be; he just hasn’t found his rhythm yet. Once he does, the entire team will be more productive.
Mattias Ekholm, the most underrated defenseman of the Four Horseman, has subtly cranked out 8 points. He has played phenomenally at both ends of the ice- breaking up rushes and protecting the net is more up his alley, but he constantly creates chances in the offensive zone. While his partner, P.K. Subban, has one more point than him, Ekholm has played more complete games thus far. He is not an area of concern for Nashville.
Colton Sissons also played well to start the season. He proves every game why he is an outstanding penalty killer, winning more than 54% of his face-offs. With a +/- rating of +8, and three points from a fourth line center (who spends most of his time in the defensive zone and on the penalty kill), Sissons is a quiet contributor that should not be taken for granted.
Now that’s all good and dandy, but my favorite part about Sissons and Ekholm so far?
Craig Smith has been relentless and crazy on the ice (hence the nickname “Crazy Legs”). He’s a traditional shooter – four goals and only one assist so far – but statistics don’t speak to his level of play. He’s created havoc in the offensive zone, done an incredible job forechecking, forced turnovers in the neutral zone, and brought the element of speed to the second line. Although he doesn’t occupy the center position, when Turris gets kicked out of the circle, he wins near 56% of his face-offs. #CraigSmithIsGoodAgain
I Love It
Filip Forsberg has 10 goals already and 14 overall points. He has been the life of an otherwise dead Nashville power play. Two consecutive games against the New Jersey Devils and the Edmonton Oilers featured a PPG from Forsberg. He’s been on fire recently. Oh, and he netted his sixth career hat trick against the Oilers, and he’s only getting started.
Ryan Johansen has been setting his teammates up beautifully, (yes, we all saw the one-handed passes, but for the sake of my sanity, I wish he would shoot more), as he has racked up 13 points with 11 assists. He has been the most productive center for Nashville. He wins crucial face-offs, displays patience when setting up his teammates, and overall, he takes care of the puck.
Viktor Arvidsson has netted seven goals and tallied four assists. The motor of the offense, you will normally find Arvidsson in net-mouth wars against the biggest of defenders, or streaking towards the net on breakaways. He has produced two multi-goal games thus far, and is probably the most fun player to watch for the Predators.
In essence, Nashville has been working because of the JOFA line.
I Want Something Else, Not More Of It
P.K. Subban has produced nine points, yet there is something off. He has not played well defensively. Whether it be turning the puck over behind the net, in the neutral zone, in the offensive zone- okay, he turns the puck over frequently. There seems to be a lack of net-front awareness from Subban; too many guys are getting to the front of the net when he is on the ice. The nine points are great, and there certainly is not a problem with the celebrations, but more productive defensive play is needed.
Overall, the Predators have scored 38 goals to start the year. If one were to subtract the JOFA line and the defensemen, they would have scored an astounding 12 goals. To say Nashville needs more production from the other three lines would not only be an understatement, it would be an outright plea. Nick Bonino and Ryan Ellis have not netted their first yet, and Kevin Fiala has only lit the lamp once. I’m dizzy just thinking about it.
We could sit here and talk about special teams, but what would a Nashville Predators game be if someone were not penalized? It’s as much of a tradition as Tim McGraw and the Black Keys playing after a goal is scored. They have been penalized 34 times this year- averaging over 3 penalties a game. They have drawn 41 penalties, and have capitalized 6 times. In the simplest of terms, special teams need some work.
Kevin Fiala. Yikes. He got off to a slow start last year, but his early play hasn’t been exactly high caliber. With a +/- rating of -6, and almost little to no offensive initiative on the power play, Fiala has been demoted to the fourth line twice this year. The Swiss forward is in dire need of a boost.
I know I’m hard on a team that currently sits at the top of the Central Division and the league. I know Nashville has one of the best center depths in the league, and the defensemen are the most skilled out of any team faced thus far. And, I also know that Nashville are a couple of bad luck pucks away from being undefeated (we’ll forget about the Calgary shutout). That being said, even the best of teams have weak links, and the Central Division is too good right now to have too many weak links.
Subban has to be better defensively. I love watching Arvy and Fil score, but the team would benefit tremendously if more players sparked some offense. Special teams needs serious improvement, and most of all, Fiala has to break through. These mistakes have to be cleaned up.
Even with these concerns, Nashville is winning. Regardless of all the nitpicking, they are winning, and nothing can change the score when the buzzer sounds.
What Is Next?
November will be a tough one for the Predators.
Nashville faces both the Colorado Avalanche and the Tampa Bay Lightning twice in November. Both teams are competing not only for their respective division titles, but the Presidents Trophy as well. Other notable teams on the schedule are the Anaheim Ducks (twice), the Boston Bruins and the struggling St. Louis Blues (twice).
Pekka Rinne is not completely healthy yet, but he will be coming back soon.
Austin Watson is coming back in November. Watson is missing 18 games due to suspension, and Nashville needs some solidification in the third and fourth lines. He provides physicality, an elusive shot, and overall, more intensity. Watson will be eligible to play against the Arizona Coyotes on November 15th. He produced 19 points in last years regular season, and 8 points in the playoffs.
One more thing- how about Juuse Saros? After over 60 minutes of shutout hockey, it finally took an excellent San Jose power play to beat him. He has filled in for Rinne nicely, and makes Rinne-esque saves. While I’m not looking forward to the eventual retirement of Rinne, I am extremely excited for the career of Juuse Saros.