Warning: I’m about to be fairly positive. It’s rare for me, so please excuse me if I mess up or spontaneously combust.
Thursday’s game against the Vancouver Canucks was a weird one. It started like any other game, the Nashville Predators were being chased out of their building by a lesser team. Then, something incredible happened. The Predators played up to their potential.
I’m not going to say that the Canucks were hanging on for dear life, things are pretty even at five on five if we adjust for scoring and home ice advantage. But still, this was an effort to be proud of. So let’s take a look at what made this possible.
The first period, as I mentioned, was not very good. The coaches were chasing certain matchups and it looked like the defense had never actually met their partners. What changed was that after the first, the Predators allowed their players to face whoever was on the ice against them.
What I mean was that there was no double shifting Josi and Ellis because Pettersson stepped on the ice, which was a puzzling move to begin with. Instead, the Predators laid their skill on the table and it took over, at least at five on five.
What can I say about the Johansen line that hasn’t been said about the Sistine Chapel or 2 Live Crew’s album, “As Nasty As They Want To Be”. They were everywhere and did a good job of beating the Canucks’ shutdown line. Bo Horvat and company are no slouches. Viktor Arvidsson had two high danger chances while Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg each had one. The Johansen goal was a bit lucky, but they put themselves in a position to be lucky because Forsberg made a great defensive play and Johansen/Arvidsson put themselves in a dangerous area. Luck is when opportunity means good positioning.
The Turris line had an interesting night. Their minutes are weirdly low, but they were victims of coaching decisions in the first period. The third line was matched to Pettersson while Turris was matched to Spooner, although it changed. As soon as it did, the second started to stretch its legs. Granlund is the only player who produced a high danger chance, but his partners were pretty good in the offensive zone. Heaven forbid this trio sees extended time in their own zone, but they’re good enough offensively to maintain possession of the puck. Also, Granlund is going to explode eventually. Who could’ve foreseen that putting him with better linemates would improve his offense?
I’ve already talked about the third line and matchups, so I won’t get too much into it. All I’ll say is that they dominated a bad Canucks third line, which is great! Their results speak for themselves. The first goal by Sissons was a bit weird, but I’m glad the dumb “intent” rule wasn’t used. The second goal was especially odd. Watson decked an unsuspecting player away from the play which led to a shot and a rebound. The rebound was subsequently put in after Markstrom was pushed out of the way. I don’t think that Markstrom could’ve gotten back in time, but that’s not really the point. I’m kind of at a loss, but if I were in the locker room, I’d be thinking “better them than us”. All in all, this was probably the third lines’ best night. I hope this performance allows the coaches to stop putting them in a “shutdown” role, and instead allow them to play offense.
The fourth line is bad. I hate to say it, I really do. I like Jarnkrok and Boyle a lot, but they haven’t been good. Their minutes have been decreasing and I understand why. Boyle has been good on the penalty kill but neither him nor Wayne Simmonds has fixed the power play, which shouldn’t really be a surprise. Getting outplayed by a bad Canuck’s fourth line isn’t ideal.
That was easily the worst first period of Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis’ career. They were being hard matched against the Pettersson line and I don’t really know why. If I had to guess, I think the coaching staff thought that Josi and Ellis could hold possession, which meant Pettersson wouldn’t be able to gain prolonged offensive zone time. The coaching staff was very wrong. After the first period, the first pairing did much better and was able to dig themselves out of their “possession hole”. All in all, it was mediocre performance from the duo.
I can think of two or three defensive pairs that are better than P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm at the moment. There’s Jaccob Slavin and Dougie Hamilton in Carolina, Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie in Calgary, and Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey in Winnipeg (when they’re healthy). The second pair received some sheltered zone starts, but faced Horvat for the majority of the night. It was a hard fought battle, but Subban and Ekholm prevailed. This duo is heating up at the right time.
It’s hard for me to say that Dante Fabbro has been found money. He was a first round pick and has been lauded as a great defender in the making. So far, he’s looked pretty good. You can tell he’s overly cautious and is more focused on not making a mistake rather than making a good play. That’ll fade over time. Fabbro and Dan Hamhuis have been really good together, although their inability to exit the defensive zone with possession could prove to be an issue as time goes on. I’m excited to see what this duo could do as Fabbro grows more confident. Please don’t take them out in favor of Weber and Irwin.
Why did Pekka Rinne play in this game? There’s a good chance he’ll play the last game of the season against the Blackhawks, which would result in him starting in four of the final five games before the playoffs. I understand that he wants to be “warmed up”, but I think that 57 games should be more than enough for him to be ready. Just give the poor guy a break before the grind of the playoffs, he’s not the young gun he once was.
That said, Rinne was perfect on Thursday. He kept the Predators in the game during the terrible first period, and covered for a few mistakes in the second and third. All in all, the Canucks had 13 high danger chances but failed to capitalize on any of them. Pekka Rinne is your answer as to why.