Continuing this Tradition Unlike Any Other, our positional preview of the Nashville Predators now moves to their group of forwards, and based on some of the reports coming in out of the Preds’ morning skates, they’re seriously up against it.
Filip Forsberg – Ryan Johansen – Viktor Arvidsson
Far and away the Preds’ most consistent and productive line, this season saw a huge breakout year for Viktor Arvidsson, who jumped from 8 goals last year to 31 this year. And while he did ride a shooting percentage spike from 5.8 to 12.6, the latter is not a wholly ridiculous number for a 24 year old playing with actual skilled linemates for the first time with any regularity. And Arvidsson made the most out both the opportunity and his diminutive 5’9″ frame, playing a crash and bang high energy game akin to Brendan Gallagher’s more productive years. But Arvidsson has finish from a distance despite getting up close and personal with most goalies, and his legs never stop churning. It’s a good thing they do, because his centerman Ryan Johansen would never be mistaken for an intense player who gets his nose dirty. Johansen has great size for a centerman at 6’3″, 210 lbs, but it’s all cookie dough, and he has amazing hands and vision. While this was a knock on Joe Thortnon that led to his departure from Boston many moons ago, it’s a little bit more fairly earned here, as Johansen does a fair bit of floating, and is pretty easily jostled off the puck for a guy his size. The most damning thing about Ryan Johansen’s career is that John Tortorella was right about him, and this is a kid who looks like fucking Eugene from The Walking Dead. His other wing, Filip Forsberg is a streak shooter like most speedy scoring wingers are, and when he’s on a binge there isn’t a quicker release of a wrist shot to be found in the game.
Across various situations and With-Or-With-Out-You splits, the unit has basically gotten anywhere from 55-58% of the shot attempts when on the ice. Which is certainly a steep number. But as will be evident the further down the lineup things get, there’s a reason why they blow on the road. This is a highly skilled line that can still get theirs against whatever “top” competition the revolving door of bums an 82 game schedule offers. But with disadvantageous starts and matchups with teams able to merely absorb them, the unit was on the ice for more goals than they allowed on the road, wheras at home they were decidedly in the black on that ledger. Furthermore, in any series they’d be likely be seeing the top defensive unit the opposition has to offer shift-in, shift-out, and in this series in particular with on of the most notorisously matchy-uppy coaches in the league on the other bench, Ryan Johansen is likely going to have some combination of 2 of 3 possible Hall of Famers up his asshole with the Keith-Hjalmarsson pairing and either the Toews line or Hossa and Kruger as a forward unit. And even if things play out to a draw in that matchup, it’s going to become very clear momentarily why that’s unlikely to be enough.
Kevin Fiala – Mike Fisher – James Neal
With sex criminal Mike Ribeiro now demoted to the minors (rather than demoted to face down in a fucking drainage ditch where he belongs), fellow women’s rights activist Mike Fisher is now being relied upon to provide both second line scoring punch and defensive responsibility for the Preds. And at 37 years old, that’s a bit of a tall order to put on a guy who has only broken 20 goals twice in Nashville, and the most recent of which was three years ago. Even shooting 15%, 3% above his career average of 11.9%, Fisher only potted 18 to go along with 24 assists. This is Laviolette’s de-facto shutdown line, and will probably be tasked with the Russian Spies once things hit Broadway in Nashville. Kevin Fiala is oddly of Czech descent and is a Swiss citizen but has the name of one of AJ Soprano’s shit-dick friends, and has been tepid in his first full look in the league at age 20, with 11 goals and 5 helpers in 54 games. The diminutive Fiala adds a bit of speed to this line that desperately needs it, but he’s bounced all over the bottom 3 lines throughout the season, including 22 games in Milwaukee where he racked up 7G and 12A. So there’s still time and some clear upside that made him worthy of the #11 overall pick, but it’s been in fits and starts. James Neal on paper is a prototypical power forward, but tends to pile up the injuries that are the cost of doing business for playing that type of game, and has the biggest, widest, reddest ass of anyone with that skill set in the league. He can dominate shifts at a time but will absolutely fill his diaper and throw a tantrum at some point in this series.
Pontus Aberg – Colton Sissons – Craig Smith
Now comes The Good Shit©. With Colin Wilson and Calle Jarnkrok both out with injuries, this is an actual line that the Preds have to trot out against a team with 6 (basically 7 couting Hartman’s 19) 20 goal scorers. And they are doing so on the road, where they have been bad even with a full lineup. Smith and Wilson seemingly score 48 goals a piece in games against the Hawks, mostly because it sure as shit wasn’t going to be Mike Fucking Ribeiro carrying any kind of weight. Craig Smith is a guy who can be productive with choice matchups and creative linemates. Colton Sissons is a fourth liner. And Pontus Aberg has 15 games of NHL service to his name, all this year, since being drafted five years ago.
Cody McLeod – Austin Watson – Harry Zolnierasdasd;fjasdjgkfcyk
No, that is not a misprint, Peter Laviolette is actually doing that. For all the plaudits that David Poile gets for managing a progressive hockey operation, that he even has three fucking tomato cans like this to even use is laughable. If one were to squint real hard and/or start huffing nitrous, a case could be made that Austin Watson can contribute something, but he’s basically a bankrupt man’s Ben Eager as a first round washout that’s had to try to up the rockhead portion of his game to stay anywhere close to the league because of his size. Cody McLeod and Harry Zolnierczyk are carbuncles with eyes and will only be on the ice to try to injure people. And that they are dressing ahead of the apple of the spreadsheet set’s eye in P.A. Parenteau makes it all even more hilarious. Miikka Salomaki and his zero points in five games and a 700 year old Vern Fiddler with his ever-flapping gums and ability to occasionally win a draw will no doubt dress at some point in this series considering what this line currently is constituted of.
While the injuries to Wilson and Jarnkrok aren’t immaterial, they’re ultimately just guys, with a combined 27 goals (12 for Wilson, 15 for Jarnkrok) missing out of the Preds’ lineup. This team has been bad on the road for a reason with the fewest road wins of any playoff team (17), and it’s because they have one line they can consistently rely on to score regardless of cherry picked matchups. There just isn’t enough here outside of the top line, and a Hawks team with Anisimov back should tear a hole in time whenever either of those bottom six units is on the ice, especially if neither Josi or Subban is out there to back any of it up.