Nashville Predators Having Trouble Finding the Best Top-Six Combination

NASHVILLE, TN - JANUARY 18: Craig Smith #15 of the Nashville Predators (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - JANUARY 18: Craig Smith #15 of the Nashville Predators (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images) /

As The Nashville Predators go into the All-Star break outside of the playoffs, the top of the roster has to perform more up to preseason expectations.

While knocking off the Buffalo Sabers on Saturday night the Nashville Predators are heading into the break on a positive note.  But the top-six and the big named players on this team have to start living up to expectations.

Can new head coach John Hynes find the best line combinations to roll with as the Predators sit just six points out of a wildcard spot? We’ve seen so many different combinations and still no clear-cut answer on which one is the best.

An issue with the Predators they’re leaning far too much on their depth players, while top players like Matt Duchene, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson aren’t taking over games like they should. 

Now Hynes is having to get creative with how he thinks the top part of the lineup should be constructed to get the most out of the veterans and top players. A good example of this is Hynes moving Arvidsson to the third line to play with Grimaldi. Very interesting move.

Getting more from the top line

What can we expect from Hynes as the season goes along and what can we see from the top-six because they haven’t been as lethal or productive as you would like to see.  This is part of the reason why they’re inconsistent and fighting for a wildcard spot and not a division title.

Nashville Predators
Nashville Predators /

Nashville Predators

An example of this is Mikael Granlund. In 41 games he has just eight goals and eight assists, which isn’t nearly enough production from a top-six player. He’s been a good passer, but translating enough of that to goals and assists.

Another player that should be producing more is Johansen. In 47 games he has scored ten goals and 17 assists. His assist numbers are way down from last season when he

There are a lot of ways you can go for this line, but putting Austin Watson on the top line is the most recent experiment. It’s been said that Hynes wants to be able to throw four lines out there that can all create problems for the opposition. He doesn’t want the team to be top-heavy:

Craig Smith being on the top line with Kyle Turris and Ryan Johansen is one to think about. Smith and Turris have always played well together, and Johansen could benefit more from that as he didn’t have a point in two weeks before registering the goal against Buffalo Thursday night

Hynes could move around Arvidsson and keep him on the 2nd or 3rd line and keep Duchene on the second line. Either way this team needs to wake up and produce more from the top and not rely on the third and fourth line so much to produce. That means shaking things up, and that’s what Hynes has been doing.

2nd Line Options

Everyone seems to like Duchene and Filip Forsberg together on this line, and it makes sense why. They’ve been most productive when playing together, but the team needs to get more out of these superstars.

Duchene is averaging around his career average for points so far with 31 points in 44 games. He’s never had more than 70 points in a season, so he’s not experience a dip in production like it seems.

Did we expect more when we acquired him over the offseason? He’s not playing terrible, but he’s not producing on high level like Roman Josi is either. He remain a vital piece of the top-six that can still catch fire with his skill level and finish with 60 to 70 points.

Many players deserve to play on the second line and what’s interesting is this line has gotten moved around a lot. The issue of Granlund not living up to anywhere near his potential is the concerning one. Granlund might need to be moved into the bottom-six from here on out.

Keeping Smith, Duchene, Forsberg as Johansen are pretty much locks to stay in the top six. Those other two spots are open for debate and can be interchangeable based on matchups that Hynes sees fit.

AHL players in the lineup

Now we move onto the the depth of this team which has really kept this team from completely sinking. Players like Yakov Trenin and Colin Blackwell have really answered the call to produce at a higher level than people could’ve expected. Is there room for them in the top-six, or should they remain in the bottom-six?

Trenin was recently sent back to Milwaukee prior to the game against Buffalo on Saturday night. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t get called back up eventually.

Grimaldi is having an outstanding season and his best of his career. He commented recently about the team’s mental state lacking whenever they fall behind in games:

It’s hard to know what is truly the best line combination. It’s not an easy task, but one that Hynes needs to figure out as the second half of the season unfolds. This might remain an ever-changing situation based on certain matchups each game.

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One thing is certain. The top players on the Predators have to start taking over more games and living up to their star statuses. If that happens, the Predators have a great chance at closing the gap and making the playoffs for a sixth-straight season.