Never fall too in love with a particular Nashville Predators lineup, because odds are it’ll change before you know it and keep you guessing.
It’s been a subject of scrutiny for the Nashville Predators and head coach Peter Laviolette as he’s shuffled the lines constantly. Some of it unavoidable with key injuries throughout the season to Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson and Mikael Granlund.
Then you had the head-scratching benching of Kyle Turris for half of November. He’s been back in the lineup since December 3rd and has a current four-game point streak going.
The question remains if this unpredictability has actually worked or has it hindered the team more than anything. We can always critique a certain combination of lines, and never will everyone be 100 percent satisfied with a particular lineup.
Predators are full strength
Now is the time when we should get an idea of what Laviolette really wants to roll out on a consistent basis. Granlund and Arvidsson are back in the lineup, and the arsenal of talent on the roster is healthy and ready to play.
We don’t want this uncertainty of how the lineup should be constructed when and if the Predators make the playoffs. Answers to who belongs where and who should be playing alongside each other needs to be answered. Once that happens, the Predators need to stick with it and let chemistry be built.
Some chemistry is starting to be built in certain spots as guys have been playing together for much of the season. This is what we want as the second half of the season approaches.
That was true with Nick Bonino‘s line, but now that has been broken up. Bonino leads the team in goals, Rocco Grimaldi is having a career-season and Craig Smith seems to have woken up after a sluggish and unlucky start offensively.
With Turris back in the lineup, he’s seeing time with Smith and I’m all for that. These two guys play so well together and make each other more productive players. The latest projected lineup from the Predators official website has Turris and Smith staying together on the third line.
Matt Duchene and Granlund have had a lot of time together, but it hasn’t always been as productive as you would like from two players with high-ceilings and high expectations. Duchene has just three points in his last ten games.
With the team fully healthy, or as healthy as you can be in hockey, it’s time for us to learn the true identity of this team. That means establishing some consistency with the lineups and seeing what happens. As of late, the Predators are trending back up.
Hopefully no more big changes, or injuries
First thing is first and that’s hoping that the Predators don’t suffer another long-term injury to their top-six forwards. Honestly, we don’t want an injury to anyone, but the Predators really need their top-six to stay intact for the stretch run.
The most recent change that’s a bit of a bombshell is Forsberg lining up on the fourth line. He did this last game in the win over Boston, and it worked out well. The Predators are opting for a more physical and bruising lineup from top to bottom. They have toughness and grit on each line, which will hopefully improve their defensive efficiency.
The Predators give up the 7th-most goals per game in the NHL at 3.2, and are 25th in penalty kill percentage. These are two areas that have to get better for a playoff run, and aligning the lineup with physicality on each line is a smart move to hopefully improve that.
Forsberg often gets overlooked as being a guy who isn’t afraid to lay his body out there defensively. He’ll make hits, block shots and be an irritant to the other team. He’ll never be confused for a scorer who shies away from contact.
It’s a bold move, but putting him on the fourth line might end up being brilliant when we look back on it. However, I’m not convinced on that, and it’s going to take a lot to change my mind. I’d rather have him on the second line with Duchene as they could both make each other more productive players and unlock each other’s maximum potential.
Finally, you have Austin Watson now the latest veteran to be a healthy scratch. The place Turris occupied for half of November is now where Watson finds himself. Many would agree that in this case, it’s probably deserving.
Watson has had a rough season. He stayed in the lineup as long as he did based on name alone in my humble opinion. He hasn’t brought much value at all to the team. He’s not out there to necessarily ignite the offense, but he is out there to be a defensive force.
The Predators have opted to go with Colin Blackwell recently in Watson’s role. Blackwell has looked pretty good, and has filled the role of being a guy who creates defensive pressure, is heavy on the forecheck and doesn’t shy away from laying out big hits.
Blackwell has played in the last five games and has 14 hits, he’s winning faceoffs and making the most out of his abbreviated time on the ice. He’s filling Watson’s role just fine and the Predators should stick with him for now.
Here’s a full look at the morning skate rushes ahead of their Monday night matchup with the Arizona Coyotes, per Brooks Bratten of the Predators official website:
The Predators just had a very successful road trip where they took seven of eight points. As of late, Laviolette’s lineup decisions are yielding positive results. We dogged him for when things weren’t going well, so now let’s give him some props now that things are trending back up.