Nashville Predators: Impressive Third Line leads to two points in standings

NASHVILLE, TN - JANUARY 20: Kevin Fiala /

The Nashville Predators faced a tired, yet dedicated, opponent in the Florida Panthers. With an adjusted lineup, the Predators skated away with a win.

Injuries have caused fluctuations in the lineups for the Nashville Predators. With Viktor Arviddson returning, Coach Laviolette was forced to move players around. Little did he know it would ignite a fire in the third line. Their impressive performance led the Predators to victory over the Florida Panthers.

The game was not all puppies and kittens, however. Several moments left announcers and fans scratching their heads. But, when the ice was cleared, the Predators left with their fifth win in a row and retain their lead in the Central Division.

Here are my takeaways from their performance.

Third Line Magic

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With Arvidsson back in the lineup, he reclaimed his position on the Predators top forward line. This meant moving someone else back. Tonight, it was Kevin Fiala; however, he did not rejoin is usual line with Kyle Turris and Craig Smith. That was left for Pontus Aberg. No, instead, Fiala joined Nick Bonino and Calle Jarnkrok.

My guess is this line stays together for a while as the trio earned eight points. The third line has underperformed this year. Bonino came into the game with only six goals and three assists, below his career averages. He finished the night with a goal and two helpers. Jarnkrok also tallied three assists, and it was his tenacity in front of the net that led to Bonino’s goal.

Still, it was Fiala’s night. After his play against the Arizona Coyotes, I suggested Fiala was ready to go on a scoring spree. He proved those words correct. Against the Panthers, Fiala threw three shots on goal. Two found the net. The first came just 36 seconds into the game. The second retook the lead for the Predators.

It was an impressive game for Bonino, Jarnkrok, and Fiala. Together, the produced six scoring chances and four high-danger chances in 5v5 play. And, they didn’t allow a goal to be scored against them. This could be the third line we were looking for.

What defense?

I feel as if this is becoming too common. The Predators defense allowed two goals because of poor coverage. During a power play for the Panthers, P.K. Subban allowed Vincent Trocheck to skate past him. Trocheck then pounced on a rebound and scored.

Subban does well to force a shot in a place where Pekka Rinne can stop it. What he doesn’t do is go after the rebound aggressively or put himself between Trocheck and the puck.

The Panther’s second goal was due to poor coverage as well. As Colton Sceviour skated behind the net, both Alexei Emelin and Ryan Johansen followed. In watching the reply, Emelin was in good position in front of the net and should have let Johansen follow the puck. When Emelin left, Derek MacKenzie was wide open. And so what the net.

The Predators’ defense has mental lapses every game, and their opponents are taking advantage. They are chasing the puck instead of playing positional defense. That can’t happen against great teams.

Seen and not heard

It would be easy for a player that is not playing tons of minutes or scoring to show little effort on the ice. That is not happening with Pontus Aberg. Tonight, he looked like a player fighting for his NHL life. With trade rumors starting, Aberg’s name is in discussions. While he did not score, Aberg created turnovers – including one that led to Kyle Turris’s breakaway attempt – and generated three high danger changes. Aberg was all over the ice and working to win the game. It may not show on the stat sheet, but he showed heart and hustle.

The same could not be said for Alexei Emelin, who had several plays in the first period that left fans wondering if he knew where he was.

Missing in action

What is going on with Ryan Johansen? Yet another game where he fails to record a shot attempt. Yes, he tried to make passes to open players but he could have taken great shots several times. On the power play, the kept skating around and making “cute” passes. With players in position, a shot could have created a rebound attempt for Arvidsson to jam home.

Status Quo

Some things never change.

Rinne kept the Predators in the game, even after the defense let him down.

The Predators score first and win yet again.

It is their 14th win in games decided by a goal or less.

It is also their 19th win when being outshot by their opponent.

After two days off, the Nashville Predators will host the NHL’s best team, the Tampa Bay Lightning. While the Lightning have 65 points on the season, they lost three straight games. All three have come at the hand of Western Conference teams: Calgary, Vegas, and Minnesota.

Next: How the Predators will win Lord Stanley’s Cup

Can the Predators make it six straight wins by sending Tampa to their fourth straight loss? We will find out on Tuesday.