The Nashville Predators true strength comes from their defense. That strength doesn’t just rely on their top three, but their bottom pairing defensemen also.
Defense is a hallmark of the Nashville Predators and good defensemen are in short supply. The Predators boast one of the best defenses in the NHL, but injury has ravaged the group. Ryan Ellis‘ injury has shifted the dynamics and chemistry off, as usual linemates are forced into different roles.
The shutdown pair of Mattias Ekholm and P.K. Subban were reluctantly forced apart, while Roman Josi was given a new linemate. Subban is currently playing with Alexei Emelin, who looks like a complete bum for the majority of each game. And then the third pair is made up by Matt Irwin and some person that looks like they came off the street. The new lines look something like this:
The top three is overplayed
The top three is absolutely elite. You have an elite offensive defenseman, an elite shot suppressor, and the premier two-way defenseman in the NHL. They play tough minutes because the other guys can’t. The top three is currently averaging 26:16 a night in all situations according to naturalstattrick.com. Insane numbers considering top line defenders usually play 20-24 minutes a night. The top three are playing huge minutes against top competition, and the contrast for the bottom three is huge.
Anthony Bitetto, Matt Irwin, Yannick Weber, and Alexei Emelin make up the bottom three on most nights. And they only play about 14:25 on average. That’s a few minutes below the average third pairing. What’s stranger is that Emelin is actually playing in a top-four role alongside Subban. But he’s still receiving sheltered minutes as he’s not fast enough to keep up with top six offensive talent. Another interesting factoid, when Samuel Girard‘s three games are added in, the average TOI actually jumps to 15:28. It’s interesting bcause he’s played one or two games fewer than the other three.
It’s certainly not a good thing
Everyone can agree that the bottom three was exposed on Saturday against the New York Rangers. The Ranger’s speed was on full display and burned Emelin and Irwin for two goals. The Nashville Predators can’t trust their bottom three and they can’t possibly play their top three any more than they already do. I love Subban, Ekholm, and Josi but if they keep playing at this rate, they’ll be burnt out by the start of the playoffs. Obviously, Ellis will help alleviate the pain, but I’m worried that the damage will be done by then. Especially if Josi or Subban have to play through injury to keep the Predators’ playoff hopes alive.
Here’s the issue, there’s no clear cut solution. So my personal solution is to turn it over to the kids. Why not? Weber, Bitetto, and Emelin have given consistent reasons why they shouldn’t have an NHL job. So why not call up Alexandre Carrier or Jack Dougherty? What’s the worst that can happen? The Nashville Predators have to shelter the bottom three? They’re already doing that and receiving no points in return.
Roll the dice, it can’t be worse than what’s already there eh? All I know is that riding the top three is going to burn them out before the Predators really need them. The Nashville Predators need to spread the love or risk losing a top defenseman to injury or exhaustion.