Nashville Predators: Line blender smoothie tastes like victory

(Photo by Aaron Poole/NHLI via Getty Images)
(Photo by Aaron Poole/NHLI via Getty Images) /

With a late three-goal lead, the Nashville Predators set themselves up well last night. Although mental mistakes allowed the Kings to steal a point.

Fans of the Nashville Predators have a unique advantage over many fans in the NHL. Every time they sit down to watch their team play, they get a free cardio workout as a bonus. The last time the Predators won a game in drama-free fashion was against Colorado in mid-October.

After a dismal loss in San Jose and a surprising challenge from the

San Diego Gulls

Anaheim Ducks, my expectations in Los Angeles were low. Even after the first couple of goals, I remained wary of the danger posed by the white-hot Kings. After the third score, I (like the Predators) started to get a little too comfortable.

Line combo limbo

One of the big talking points before the game was how Peter Laviolette arranged his forwards. For a few games now, JoFA has been dissolved, though without concrete destinations for each player. Both last night and in Anaheim, the Predators’ first line included Viktor Arvidsson, Ryan Johansen, and Scott Hartnell. Johansen has proven that he excels at getting the puck to dangerous areas. It makes sense that you’d want Hartnell alongside to perform his usual tricks in front of net.

How did this line do in Los Angeles, then? Let’s take a look at some stats. To illustrate how each team produced shots with this line on the ice, I’m using Fenwick % (FF%), which describes the proportion of unblocked shot attempts by each team. Additionally, I’m including high-danger scoring chances. This is broken down into chances for (HDCF), chances against (HDCA), and the proportion of Predators’ chances to Kings’ chances (HDCF%). Chances are considered “high danger” when they are produced in the low slot, right in front of the goaltender.

Hartnell – Johansen – Arvidsson

*time on ice at even strength 

This line helped produce P.K. Subban‘s first period goal, with Hartnell and Johansen picking up the assists. However, their possession numbers were far from convincing. The exactly average Fenwick isn’t too concerning, considering their opposition was the Kings’ first line. The high-danger chances, however, are far from ideal.

As a center, it’s actually Ryan Johansen’s responsibility to aid the defensemen in locking down the slot. This line does get a slight pass since the Kings are so good at home. That said, improvement in this area would definitely go a long way.

Second line

I spent a bit of time thinking of clever nicknames for this line, but there simply aren’t any. The Nashville Predators’ second line in Los Angeles consisted of Filip Forsberg, Colton Sissons, and Craig Smith. This group looked excellent during the game, and were rewarded with a goal after Smith uncharacteristically shot the puck on net.

Statistically, this line performed reasonably well. Here’s how it looked after 64 minutes of hockey:

Forsberg – Sissons – Smith

*time on ice at even strength

These three did a better job at suppressing high-danger chances than the first line. However, they still struggled to create chances of their own. To their credit, just 37.5% of their faceoffs were taken in the offensive zone. It wasn’t a dominant performance by any means, but this line has the potential to be very effective against future opposition.

Island of misfits

The Predators’ third line was composed of this season’s under-performers and often-scratched. At center was Calle Jarnkrok, who I will defend to my dying breath. Flanking the center were Kevin Fiala and Miikka Salomaki. The Predators did excel in depth scoring last night; nine Predators players recorded at least a point during the game. This line was no exception – Jarnkrok had two assists and Salomaki scored the opening goal.

Statistically, this line was far from dominant. They were usually matched against the Kings’ second line, which played very well throughout the game. Let’s take a look at the stats.

Fiala – Jarnkrok – Salomaki

*time on ice at even strength

To be honest, I don’t have a lot of good things to say about this group. In addition to the lukewarm possession, they were on the ice for a Kings goal and failed to take advantage of starting in the offensive zone 75% of the time.

Calle Jarnkrok is a solid defensive center. He isn’t going to put up huge numbers or score every night. He has a job and, in my opinion, does it well. I understand the need to move Fiala around until he starts clicking, but this grinding, defensively-minded line is not for him.

“Energy” line

I’m not going to get into the stats of this line, simply because it wasn’t together very often. Cody McLeod spent just over five minutes on the ice last night, and was the definition of a non-factor. Austin Watson played his game well. He is truly not far away from elite penalty killer territory. Toothless definitely belongs on this line; he is the thinking person’s Cody McLeod.

Frederick Gaudreau, on the other hand, does not belong on this line. His skill set as a young center comes from his ability to contribute offensively. Placing the 6’0, 179-pounder on a line designed to be physical above all simply does not make sense. I’m not sure exactly where to put him (otherwise I’d submit my resumé to the Predators). However, I can tell you that he will have a very difficult time producing anything as a member of the “energy” line.

Next: The salary cap situation going forward

Last night’s win was yet another incomplete effort by the Nashville Predators. In this case, they played reasonably well for about 40 minutes. That said, a win is a win, and last night was one hell of a win.