Answering your questions in our weekly Predators mailbag.
This week’s mailbag is loaded with some great questions. We take a look at whether or not it’s possible that the Nashville Predators are peaking too early. Also, what will the lines and defensive pairings look like with a fully healthy team plus who could still step up defensively.
What are the chances that the Preds are peaking too early this season?
— Mike Oja (@MikeOja) November 29, 2017
The Predators have absolutely owned the month of November both this season and last season. This year they have posted a record of 10-2-1 this month to add to their season record of 15-6-3 good enough for the No. 3 spot in the Wester Conference. Last November the Preds ran through their schedule with a 9-3-2 mark, but sat at just 11-9-4 on the year and we all know where Nashville ended up a year ago.
As far as ‘peaking too early,’ I don’t buy into that notion at all, not over the course of an 82-game season with a team that plays in the NHL’s toughest division in the Central. You stack up wins however and whenever you can. Nashville has home-ice advantage on its mind for the playoffs, and a win in November counts just as much as a win in March.
One interesting thing to look at is how this team is playing during 5-on-5 play. The Preds are rolling at the moment as far as their record goes, but they still have scored the eight fewest 5-on-5 goals in the NHL with 39. This team has another gear when it comes to putting pucks into the back of the net during 5-on-5 action.
We’ve seen production from a lot of our lines (even defensively). Who do you think should be the next to step up to help light the lamp?
— Krystle (@Krystletalks) November 29, 2017
This is a tough question to answer with the Predators’ entire top-six and defensive units consistently finding the scoresheet at the moment.
It’s hard to pick on anyone on this team as Nashville has won 10 of its last 12 games played, but Calle Jarnkrok and Nick Bonino are two guys that could still step up in terms of purely scoring. Jarnkrok got off to a hot start this month, but since then has cooled off with zero points over his last seven games played. Bonino returned from injury midway through November and lit the lamp in his first game back, but has just two goals and one helper in eight games this month.
Neither Bonino or Jarnkrok, which are strong two-way forwards I might add, are playing bad by any stretch of the imagination, but if those two players can chip-in just a bit more consistently then this offense could reach another level.
What will the line ups look once they get Ellis, Hartnell, and Weber back from injury
— Ryan Vircik (@RyanVircik) November 29, 2017
All three of Ryan Ellis, Scott Hartnell and Yannick Weber’s returns are still unknown at the time, but Ellis has been skating on his own and Hartnell and Weber participated in practice on Wednesday afternoon.
I think Weber could slide back into the bottom pairing alongside Matt Irwin, but Anthony Bitetto will have something to say about that because he has played very strong since sliding in for Weber. It does however fit the ‘natural scheme’ to get Weber back on the ice as he is a right-handed shot as opposed to Bitetto who is a left-handed shot, but Bitetto hasn’t been noticeable really in any of his 13 games played this season, which is always good for a more defensive-minded defenseman like himself.
Hartnell I believe will fit in very nicely on Bonino’s line on the opposite wing of Jarnkrok. That third-line will not only feature some scoring potential, but would be made up of arguably the three best two-way forwards on Nashville’s roster. This does mean that one of likely Miikka Salomaki or Pontus Aberg will be forced out of the lineup.
Last but not least, I think it’s pretty safe to say that Ellis will slide right back into the top two pairings alongside either Roman Josi or Mattias Ekholm. There will be some experimenting among those pairings, but I see Ellis fitting alongside Josi very comfortably leaving P.K. Subban and Ekholm running the other pairing.