One game down, and boy was it a doozy for the Nashville Predators. A gut wrenching 5-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning after the offense sputtered at first, but then gradually got it going.
The Predators have to quickly turn the page towards another very difficult opponent and 2023 playoff team, the Seattle Kraken. A team that’s deep, is well-coached and doesn’t beat themselves.
For the season-opener the Predators finally gave us the answer to who would be left off their bottom defensive pairing and not make one of the starting forwards lines. Dante Fabbro was benched in favor of Jeremy Lauzon, while Cole Smith claimed a starter’s role while Samuel Fagemo sat out.
As much as I don’t like either of those choices, I’m going to try not to overreact to one lineup in the season-opening game. We’re going to see a lot of lineup changes with this squad that’s still figuring things out.
So what can we expect on Thursday in the home opener against the Seattle Kraken?
Get Dante Fabbro back in the lineup, sit Jeremy Lauzon
It’s pretty simple for me on this one; I trust Fabbro more so than I do Lauzon in crunch time situations to at the very least make the right decision and avoid the really bad one that loses momentum.
Lauzon took a costly high sticking penalty mid third period that led to a Lightning power play goal scored by Nicholas Paul. It put the Lightning up for good at 4-3, and salting it away with an empty netter.
We’re going to see these two switched out constantly, but for the Kraken, I want to see what Fabbro brings. Can he be a noticeable difference-maker not only in playing more disciplined, but also maybe even providing a little more offensive upside.
Fabbro just got a one-year deal and will be a restricted free agent next offseason. He could eventually be trade bait at this year’s trade deadline in March. Until then, I want him getting more starts than Lauzon until proven otherwise by play on the ice.
Let Fagemo make his season debut against Seattle
I realize Fagemo is still very new to the Predators and they probably want to ease him in with more practices and chemistry development. With that said, I hate seeing a player of Fagemo’s offensive upside wasting away on the bench in favor of Cole Smith, who let’s face it, doesn’t have the offensive skills that Fagemo has.
I will say that Smith’s fourth line with Colton Sissons and Yakov Trenin didn’t do all that bad against Tampa Bay when it was 5v5 hockey. Problem was, it became a special teams heavy game. The Sissons fourth line was the second-best line in terms of Expected Goals For in 5v5 situations.
If you get Fagemo into the lineup for Seattle on Thursday, then Head Coach Andrew Brunette will likely have to shuffle some things up in terms of line combinations. I would consider plugging Fagemo onto the third line and moving Kiefer Sherwood down to the fourth line with Sissons and Trenin.
This would shift Philip Tomasino into Sherwood’s place on the second line, and give you a young, but high offensive upside line of Fagemo, Thomas Novak and Luke Evangelista. I trust Novak to lead that line effectively, and we know that both Fagemo and Evangelista have outstanding raw ability to just put pucks on net and make things happen one-on-one.
Don’t Shake Things Up Too Much
I am a little cautious about disrupting things too much because honestly the Predators showed guts and started building something as the game went on against the Lightning. I do want them to have multiple games in a row to continue to build something.
However, this early in the season, I think you can afford to experiment a little more freely. Once you get past the 10 to 15-game mark, then you really want to have a strong idea of what lines you want to roll with and is working best.
This is your chance early in the season to see what you have with Fagemo, and if that waiver wire pickup was really a lucrative find for the Predators front office.
You had to come out pleased with what you saw from Nashville’s top line, including Juuso Parssinen getting the honor to play alongside Ryan O’Reilly and Filip Forsberg. That line was buzzing and you need to stick with it for Seattle.
We’ll also have to wait and see if Michael McCarron gets a shot anytime soon. He was also healthy scratched against the Lightning.
Furthermore, when will Kevin Lankinen make his season debut? You definitely roll with Saros again for the Seattle Kraken matchup, but maybe find a start for Lankinen against the San Jose Sharks, the sixth game of the season.
I’m weary about throwing Lankinen to the wolves against the opponents before that, the Boston Bruins, Edmonton Oilers and New York Rangers.