The Tampa Bay Lightning and Nashville Predators collided to showcase a potential Stanley Cup Final. The depth stepped up but the big guns were silent.
Tuesday night’s game was a heavyweight matchup between two of the four best teams in the NHL. The game was a non-stop thrill ride from start to end as the offense came to play while the defenses never got going. My favorite part of everything was that the best is yet to come. The Nashville Predators were missing second-leading scorer, Filip Forsberg, and Pekka Rinne, who had the night off. Tampa Bay was missing Norris candidate Victor Hedman, 30 point scorer Ondrej Palat, Andrei Vasilesky (played the night before), and rookie sensation Mikhail Sergachev.
Despite the missing talent, this was easily a game of the year candidate between two powerhouse southern hockey clubs. There’s quite a bit of star power on each side, but we should take a minute to reflect on how well the Predators’ bottom six did.
All stats below are at five on five.
The newest version of the third line has been incredible on both sides of the puck since their creation. Peter Laviolette apparently has a huge amount of trust in them as they faced off against the Stamkos line for over five minutes and spent the rest of the majority of their time against the Kucherov line. In 11 minutes and 45 seconds, the trio owned a 60% Corsi, but weren’t able to put shots past blocks and ended with a 44.44% Fenwick.
Bonino and friends ended with two scoring chances and one high danger chances, although they gave up four chances including two high danger chances. Those numbers aren’t too bad when you add in some more context though. The line started in the offensive zone 37.50% of the time, with 40% of their zone starts coming in the offensive zone against Steven Stamkos.
All in all, the line faced tough talent and did, in fact, score a goal, even if it was waved off in favor of Viktor Arvidsson‘s goal. The Bonino line was thrown into the deep end against elite NHL talent and didn’t sink, in fact, they actually swam. This line was probably the second-best on the team.
Is there a more gritty set of wingers than Miikka Salomaki and Austin Watson? For my money, I haven’t seen a more “truculent” duo. That kind of lunch pail work ethic was on full display tonight as the Lightning’s defense had no solution for the fourth lines’ forechecking. It didn’t help that Watson was stapling guys to the boards and Salomaki was almost unmovable when he was locked in a board battle. I’ve been hard on Colton Sissons over the first half of the season, but he actually made an impact tonight. His sensible two-way play was key in disrupting Tampa’s first pass on the breakout.
The Sissons line actually had some easier zone starts than usual, as they started in the offensive zone 50% of the time, but there was no other sheltering. They spent just about all of their 9 minutes against the Kucherov/Point line and didn’t surrender an inch to the offense stars. The trio ended the night with a 66.67% Corsi and a 75% Fenwick.
Their offense was a little more potent than the Bonino line as Sissons and company had four scoring chances and one high danger chance. What’s better than those numbers is that they only gave up two chances and absolutely zero high danger chances. While they didn’t score any goals, the Sissons line kept the NHL’s leading scorer silent for about nine of his 17 minutes.
Fun hockey, but not for coaches
Quite frankly, the Nashville Predators’ looked kid friendly at five on five after the first period. There were a few positives, like Ryan Johansen driving the net and Kyle Turris making some nifty passes, but otherwise, the top six didn’t look dangerous at all. I understand that moving Kevin Fiala off Turris’ wing has hurt Turris’ production, but it shouldn’t be this bad. Let’s hope the Predators’ don’t keep relying on Juuse Saros and Pekka Rinne because goaltending magic does run out eventually.