Nashville Predators: Potential Defense Pairings For Opening Night

(Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)
(Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The Nashville Predators are built on defense. Injuries have hurt them but they’re still kicking. Who will set the tone on opening night?

Defense has been the calling card of the Nashville Predators since the beginning. Which is great, because defense wins championships, and our expectations are pretty high these days. With Associate Captain Ryan Ellis out of the picture for a few months, there are eight defensemen on the Nashville Predators roster available for Thursday night’s clash with the Boston Bruins.

You can’t win them all if you don’t win the first. The Predators will be looking to start on a good note. We know Pekka Rinne will be guarding the net. Who will be guarding him? Guessing Peter Laviolette‘s pairings is risky business, but I’m going to give it a shot anyway.

Mattias Ekholm-P.K. Subban

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Mattias Ekholm & P.K. Subban proved to be a great combination in 2016-17. They’re big dudes that make life hell for folks that have to skate against them. They shut down the best lines in the Western Conference on their way to the Stanley Cup Final. They were getting the lion’s share of the minutes in the biggest games. And they did not disappoint.

When Subban was acquired, everybody kind of assumed that he would slide into a first-line pairing with Roman Josi,. while Ekholm would continue on with Ryan Ellis on the second line. As Laviolette & the coaching staff watched them early in the season, it became obvious that a change was needed. For whatever reason, Josi-Subban didn’t really work. But Josi and Ellis worked, and it was lucky that Ekholm and Subban complimented each other so well.

These two are wonderful together. They boast excellent possession stats while also putting up points. It’s a match made in heaven and I like seeing good couples stay together, what can I say?

Roman Josi-Matt Irwin

Maybe this ends up being the first pairing. The great thing about the Predators top four is that you always have two viable first pairings. It really doesn’t matter who leads off. Matt Irwin had his career year during his first season with Nashville & was a capable replacement in the top four early on. He was a focal point of the Predators getting on track in January and molding into a Stanley Cup contender.

Josi, of course, is the captain & the leader of the Roman Empire. You put almost anybody with him and it’s going to work. It’s better to put a physical guy like Irwin with Josi so the captain can focus on other things. Mainly offense.

Alexei Emelin-Samuel Girard

The third pairing is a shot in the dark more than anything else. Anthony Bitetto & Yannick Weber will also be available on Opening Night. I feel that Alexei Emelin is a certainty, and pairing Samuel Girard with him gives the 19 year-old some big time experience alongside a veteran. Emelin’s a defensively minded guy & Girard is your typical Nashville defenseman that helps out on offense. I think that combo would work. Eventually.

It could end up disastrous for the Predators & maybe the Bruins take advantage of the rookie. He performed admirably in the pre-season, but we all know that the regular season is a whole different beast. In the long run, a shot on opening night in Boston would be a great learning experience for Girard. Nashville management has high hopes for the second-rounder. They can send him back to the QMJHL after nine games, and that will likely happen. So why not see what he can do while he’s here?

Next: Young defensive star Girard earns opening day spot

My lineup leaves Bitetto & Weber out of the proceedings. They will certainly get their chance to shine. I’d put one of them in the second game because I don’t want to sacrifice Girard to the Pittsburgh Penguins. I’m not that mean. It’ll be interesting to see how Coach Laviolette handles things, especially an injured defense.