There’s a ton of work left before the Nashville Predators even get in the 16-team traditional field of the Stanley Cup playoffs. But they need a certain catalyst to drive them forward.
There’s been so much talk regarding Ryan Johansen and his need to be a bigger force as the top-line center for the Nashville Predators.
All of the elite teams have dynamic top-line centers that have the unique ability to take over games and get their teammates involved quickly. Johansen is that guy for the Predators.
I must say that I’ve been very pleased with Johansen’s response to the criticism and pressure he’s up against in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers. He’s seizing the pressure that goes along with being on the top line and being the driving force of the team.
Without sugarcoating it, Johansen’s regular season was a letdown. Not because his season was so horrendous that he was completely ineffective, but because the expectations for him are so much higher.
A driving force for top-six
Johansen is a very skilled player, and a battle-tested veteran for this Predators team. Ever since he was dramatically injured and taken out of the 2017 Stanley Cup run, I’ve had a loyalty to him being such an important part of this team.
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Now the Predators need him to transform into the driving force he was in 2017 and 2018. A player who generates offense for his linemates and buries scoring chances when his number is called upon, which is often.
Johansen has never been a big goal scorer, and that’s not what the regular need is from him
. The need is for him to make smart plays and create offensive chances for his top line, which he’s been doing in the first two games against the Arizona Coyotes.
When Johansen is on the ice, the Predators have scored four of their seven goals through two games. The team has an impressive Corsi percentage of over 72, and is generating more shots than Arizona to the tune of 23 to 11.
The team is clearly playing very well when Johansen is on the ice. And he finally got a goal in the series in Game 2 by getting a crafty shot by Darcy Kuemper:
This is just a smart play by Johansen as he took a bad pass from Kuemper and made him pay. A veteran knowing where to be on the ice and taking advantage of the golden opportunity.
Moving up the franchise list
With this goal by Johansen, he’s now second in Predators franchise history for the postseason with 40 points. He’s only trailing Forsberg’s 46 points.
I’m looking for Johansen to continue this momentum for the rest of the series with Arizona, and hopefully beyond that into the next round. He can’t revert backwards at this critical juncture because the Coyotes will make adjustments and bring their best game for Games 3 and 4.
Even if the Predators make it past Arizona, this team needs to go further to consider this season a success. There’s too much talent on this team to get eliminated so early.
With that said, it’s going to take Johansen seizing the moment and continuing to be a heavy influence on the top line for the Predators to really make noise past the Stanley Cup Qualifiers.