Times have been tough for the Nashville Predators lately. Coming into a dramatic tilt against the Minnesota Wild, Nashville had barely stayed above 0.500 over the past month.
The primary concern at the moment is goal scoring. Aside from recent games against Colorado and Vegas, the Predators haven’t been getting blown out. Rather, they find themselves in one or two goal deficit situations, and fail to crawl back in the game.
Sunday night’s game, then, might have provided a glimmer of hope for a fanbase that has largely lost patience. Especially against a Wild team that had won five straight, it was an important victory.
Possession wise, Nashville stayed relatively even with Minnesota throughout. Juuse Saros applied some heroics to keep his team in the mix, but Alex Stalock was called on frequently as well.
Let’s take a look at the underlying numbers for Nashville at both ends of the ice. All of the values presented are from five-on-five (no powerplays or penalty kills included) and sourced from either www.naturalstattrick.com or hockeyviz.com. If you like this sort of information in visual format, I encourage you to also check out Bryan’s nice work here:
Nashville is still figuring out its consistent forward lines. With the return of Craig Smith last night, this was the first game to provide a real look at this team’s full playoff roster, with the exception of Brian Boyle.
Of course, the tried-and-true first line of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, and Viktor Arvidsson carried on as normal. The second line consisted of newly-acquired Mikael Granlund alongside Kyle Turris and Craig Smith (I welcome you to read more about Mikael Granlund’s expected role here).
The forwards were rounded out by a third line of Rocco Grimaldi, Nick Bonino, and Wayne Simmonds, followed by Frederick Gaudreau, Colton Sissons, and Calle Jarnkrok on the fourth.
In all honesty, nobody really stood out here. The good news is, no line was particularly bad either. Johansen’s line receives the worst grade, potentially for the first time this season, as they were unable to produce much of anything in terms of high-danger scoring chances in their 16 minutes of ice time. Forsberg had trouble finding open shooting lanes, and Arvidsson couldn’t match the Wild’s physicality.
The second line’s debut was somewhat impressive, though they didn’t make any headlines. Against Minnesota’s third line, they produced well in overall shot attempts and high-danger scoring chances. They were given a bit of an easy ride in zone deployment, but not to quite an extreme as usual.
Bonino’s line, too, outproduced Minnesota’s Eriksson Ek line. They did receive a more offensively sheltered role than Turris’ line, so a bit more would have been expected in terms of possession.
Finally, the fourth line actually did quite well, considering the circumstances. They drew the short straw by far in terms of zone deployment, and faced Minnesota’s top line for the majority of their night. They kept things nicely even though, and should be commended for doing so.
As I mentioned before, defense hasn’t been quite as much an issue as goal scoring for the Predators lately. With Dan Hamhuis out until further notice, Matt Irwin has been getting the call-up alongside Yannick Weber, with varying success. Otherwise, the top two pairings maintained their standard appearance.
Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis have been a bit puzzling this year, the latter especially. Although he’s been improving over the course of the year, fans have been largely dissatisfied with the newly re-signed defenseman’s performance.
In a tough matchup on Sunday night, though, he and Josi both performed admirably. They took on Minnesota’s top line and still produced nicely in terms of possession. They did receive a friendly zone deployment, which stops them short of an A+ overall.
Mattias Ekholm and P.K. Subban, meanwhile, took on Minnesota’s second line but had a more defensively-weighted deployment and nearly two additional minutes of ice time. They kept things relatively even in shot attempts, but were outplayed slightly in high-danger areas.
Finally, business as somewhat usual from the third pairing. They were sheltered in zone starts, played the easiest competition available, and had relatively little ice time. Still, they prevented disaster for the majority of the time. They earned a passing grade this time around.
Minnesota gets a chance at redemption on Tuesday night, as the teams complete a home/away double header. It will mark the return of several former Predators to Bridgestone Arena, most notably Kevin Fiala. Expect an emotional video tribute for the young winger, who delivered several incredible performances in his time with Nashville.
More likely than not, Pekka Rinne and Devan Dubnyk will feature between the pipes this time around. If round two is anything like Sunday night, they’ll each be called on several times.
Minnesota will look for redemption as the wild card floor remains hot underfoot, and Nashville will look to reestablish itself as a dominant Central Division opponent.