Injuries happen, and the great teams figure out ways to navigate past them. The Nashville Predators will be tested by that due to the injury to Ryan McDonagh.
McDonagh has been placed on Injured Reserve due to what is being called an upper body injury. He took a puck to the head while scrambling in front of the net in Friday’s win over the New York Islanders:
This is the first major injury that the Nashville Predators have had to deal with through the first 20-plus games. Most of their core has played in all 23 games and stayed relatively healthy.
Nashville Predators will have to scramble defensively without McDonagh
The timeline is two to four weeks, which is always unclear. If McDonagh misses the ladder of four weeks then we might not see him back until early January. A significant chunk of the schedule for a Predators team that has been playing much better as of late, but still needs to keep the momentum going in a crowded division race.
This will call Jordan Gross back into the fold. The rookie played in three games earlier this season and even posted an impressive two-goal performance against the Vancouver Canucks.
Gross is capable of bringing some offense to a Predators team that is 29th in the NHL in scoring.
The trade off here is that Gross will also bring his fair share of defensive mistakes as should be expected from a rookie defenseman. We were also finally starting to see some defensive chemistry with the pairings, and now it will take more growing pains.
Losing McDonagh is a rather impactful loss to this team. He’s a leader on the ice and has been playing very well since being paired with Roman Josi. The penalty kill will take a hit, which has been somewhat of a bright spot ranking 13th in the NHL.
McDonagh was the crown jewel of the Predators’ offseason and now they’ll have to scramble and lean on a rookie defenseman in Gross to step up to the plate.
Gross has played in 13 games for the Milwaukee Admirals in the AHL this season, posting 11 points and five of those coming on the power play. We’ll have to see if he gets playing time on the Predators’ power play unit which has been mediocre to say the least.
How Should the Defensive Pairs Be Structured with no McDonagh?
It’s fair to say that the defensive structure will take a hit after the loss of McDonagh. Gross will have to show he’s ready for significant NHL minutes, but it could also mean that Dante Fabbro is once again called upon to move up in the lineup.
Fabbro hasn’t been very impressive this season, and if I’m Head Coach John Hynes, I’m giving Gross the chance in a top-four defensive role.
The Predators’ most effective defensive pair in terms of not surrendering goals has been Alexandre Carrier and Mattias Ekholm. According to MoneyPuck, this pair is 5th in the NHL in Expected Goals Against Per 60 Minutes.
Perhaps you give Gross the chance to play with Josi while keeping your most effective defensive pairing intact with Carrier and Fabbro. I don’t feel comfortable with moving either Fabbro or Jeremy Lauzon up.
The Nashville Predators will likely have to continue to lean on stellar goaltending from not just Juuse Saros, but also Kevin Lankinen. Both have been incredible so far this season and have helped fuel the Predators’ recent surge up the standings.
The next game for the Nashville Predators comes Thursday on the road in a rematch with the Tampa Bay Lightning. These two went to overtime just a couple weeks ago with the Lightning pulling out the win.