Nashville Predators Retaining First Place Despite Injuries

Injuries happen to every team, but the Nashville Predators have had some unlucky breaks to key players. They’re still right where they need to be.

It’s pretty amazing what the Nashville Predators have managed to do despite losing so many players that make up their foundation. Players like P.K. Subban, Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg have missed lengthy amounts of time. They’re 5-4-1 over their last ten, which doesn’t sound flattering. However, they’re staying alive as we patiently wait for our true roster to come together.

We’ve become spoiled by this team, expecting them to cruise through the regular season every year. Injuries have complicated things and made things not so simple. Despite all of this, they’re in prime position to make another run at a division title and top seed in the playoffs.

The Predators have unfortunately surrendered the division lead to Winnipeg.  They’re tied at 46 points. It’s hard to argue against the notion that the Predators would comfortably be in the division lead with Forsberg and Arvidsson still on the top line. If I’m a Jets or Avalanche fan, I’m frustrated that my team hasn’t taken advantage of a beat-up Nashville team. Now the Predators appear to be getting very close to returning to full strength again.

Top guns close to returning

Let’s start with Arvidsson. He hasn’t played in five weeks, putting a stop to his red-hot start that had him with 13 points in 13 games.  He’s now making big progress to returning to the ice in the next couple games.

Arvidsson transforms this offense into one that can flip ice quickly and put so much pressure on the opposing team. You just can’t easily replace a player like him no matter how deep you may be. The Predators have looked vastly different without Arvidsson in the lineup.

Subban is also on the team’s current road trip which started with an overtime loss to Ottawa. He’s been out nearly as long as Arvidsson. His absence has forced bigger roles for Yannick Weber, Matt Irwin and Dan Hamhuis. These three are serviceable players but don’t possess anywhere near the talent that Subban brings. It’s hard to replace a top-five defenseman like Subban is considered to be by NHL Network. His ability to possess the puck, generate scoring chances and be an on-ice leader is something the Predators can’t wait to get back.

This rounds out my main point about how impressive it is that Nashville remains firmly in the hunt to win the Western Conference again. They’re doing it while having to piece together lineups and depend on great goaltending by Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros.

Unsung heroes

So who has really stepped over this last month to keep Nashville near the top of the standings? The first player that comes to mind for me is Ryan Johansen. He’s remained the constant contributor on the top line. His assist numbers have remained steady despite having to build new chemistry. He’s now up to 24 assists on the season and well on pace to shatter his career high of 47. Here’s what Johansen had to say about playing through the injuries, per the Predators website:

Our mindset isn’t to survive these injuries. We’re going out there and trying to win every game. We go into every game expecting to win.

Mattias Ekholm is really stepping up his game offensively and taking on the Subban role nicely. His 18 assists are already just six short of his total from last season. He’s played very well on the second defensive pairing behind Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi. I’m more than ready to see Subban and Ekholm back together on the second pairing.

Then we have Josi, the model of consistency. He’s defending his captain title with his leadership and play on the ice. His latest game against Ottawa nearly brought the Predators back from a three-goal deficit with two goals of his own and an assist. He’s picking up a lot of slack over the last month to keep the Predators from falling down the standings.

Championship teams respond to adversity and don’t fold. The Predators are doing that, even if they’re losing to a few teams they would normally beat. You want to win every game, but in reality, the Predators just have to avoid a long losing streak. They remain one of the best teams in the NHL when they get back to full strength as we near the halfway point of the regular season.