With the Nashville Predators on the brink of elimination heading into Friday’s Game 4, you can’t help but focus on who’s not showing up.
I’m fully aware that Wednesday’s crushing, and somewhat unlucky, Game 4 loss can’t solely be put on one or two players’ shoulders. It’s a team effort and a lot of factors are at play for why the Nashville Predators are now one game away from being eliminated.
If the Predators get eliminated from the Stanley Cup Qualifiers on Friday, it’ll mark the third-straight season of the team going in reverse. A scary trend that could lead to some “cleaning house” in the offseason.
Ever since the Predators took that enormous and captivating run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2017, the team has been going in reverse. You can’t blame it on one player or coach, but you can zero in on highly-paid and talented players not living up to their reputations.
A disappearing act for the second line
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They’re just as non-existent as the fourth line guys at this point. I’ve been waiting for Duchene to have a string of breakout performances and it just hasn’t happened since the first few games to open the 2019-20 regular season.
What’s so frustrating about Duchene is there’s so much untapped potential for him to take over a series and make the Predators an unstoppable team with their top two lines behind Filip Forsberg and company.
Granlund has been here since the end of last season via free agency, and has never really been like the player he was with the Minnesota Wild. A player that has the potential of flirting with 60-plus points a season, but hasn’t been what was advertised coming in.
In return, the Predators shipped off the young budding star in Kevin Fiala. Looking back on it, the Predators have badly lost that trade with the Wild.
The Predators can’t rely on the top line alone if they’re going anywhere far. The team is asking way too much of Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Johansen to carry them offensively right now in this series.
There’s been some depth scoring from the bottom six with Calle Jarnkrok scoring a goal, and Nick Bonino tallying one as well in Game 2. That’s all well and good, but you can’t rely on that regularly when trying to win playoff games.
But where is the second line? The all-important second line that I was very excited to see heading into this series? They’re just not making any kind of an impact like they should be.
On paper, the second line looks tremendous. Two crafty veterans in Kyle Turris and Duchene to go along with a very offensively-skilled Granlund. And yet this line can’t get it together and seize the moment when the team really needs them to.
Turris absolutely sniped a goal past Darcy Kuemper in Game 3, but an inexplicable offside call negated the goal. Duchene was the guilty party, and Head Coach John Hynes called it a “detail we can’t have”.
Horrible luck for Turris as he’s been trying to break through, and hasn’t been the problem on the second line.
Can they get it together in time?
Why does Austin Watson have the same amount of shots on goal as Granlund and Duchene combined in Game 3? For what it’s worth, Duchene had three of those shots while Granlund didn’t manage single one.
These guys are getting valuable power play time as well. And yet these two talented players just can’t find any offensive chemistry to produce even one goal over the first three games.
Something has to change for Game 4 in terms of line combinations. I thought it looked great on paper heading in, but adjustments have to be made now. Elevate Craig Smith to the second line and shift Granlund down.
Another much more bold option is to replace Duchene or Granlund in the starting lineup. That would certainly send a message, but I’m just not sure you can go there at this juncture.
There has to be more production from the second line for the Predators to make it out of this qualifier with Arizona. I think you have to keep Duchene on the second line and hope that he figures it out.
Looking long-term, there’s reason to be a little worried about the Duchene signing. He came in with a lot of hype and a big contract, and he’s not living up to it.
You can live with Duchene’s regular season output, which wasn’t horrendous as he’s never been an elite point producer, but these playoff games is where you earn your money.
Same goes for Granlund. Can you argue it’s a systematic issues with why he’s not producing at the same level as he was in Minnesota? The Predators have a difficult decision to make in the offseason regarding Granlund and whether or not to give him a new contract or let him walk.
The potential is there, especially with Duchene, to figure this out before it’s too late. Duchene had five goals and five assists in ten playoff games for the Blue Jackets in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, just before signing with the Predators in the offseason.
Both Duchene and Granlund have to wake up out of their slumbers and figure out a way to generate some offense behind the top line or some serious roster changes will be coming in the offseason.