The Nashville Predators injury problems got worse on Saturday as the team announced that star forward Filip Forsberg would go on injured reserve. Robby Stanley of NHL.com reported that the injury was to Forsberg’s hand, also adding that he should miss 4-6 weeks.
Add Forsberg to a growing list of major injuries for the Predators: P.K. Subban (undisclosed injury, no time table), Kyle Turris (undisclosed, no time table), and Viktor Arvidsson (broken thumb, 6-8 weeks).
Just more bad news. Forsberg and Arvidsson both out for a while. Still no word on Turris or Subban.
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) December 1, 2018
That’s almost an All-Star game lineup for the Preds all on injured reserve.
However, all is not lost. Having major injury issues in November/December is much better than March/April or during the playoffs. Here’s three reasons why the Predators should be able to navigate these injuries without too much trouble.
A favorable schedule
First, let’s assume that Subban and Turris are out at least as long as Forsberg and Arvidsson. They could return sooner, they could be out longer. The Preds haven’t given a time table, so lets assume it’s going to be a while. For what it’s worth, the Preds are usually more up front about injuries when they are more serious (see: Mike Fisher’s torn Achilles, Pekka Rinne’s hip, and Arvidsson’s thumb).
I’m going to put an arbitrary return date at January 15th vs. the Capitals at home. That’s a total of 20 games without those four players and I think a reasonable assumption based on what we know.
Of those 20 games, the Preds will play:
- 13 games against teams that did not make the playoffs last year
- 12 games against teams that are not currently in playoff position
- 15 games against teams in 4th place or below in their conference
- 13 games against teams with a negative goal differential
There are a several tough challenges in that stretch, including a game home against Buffalo (tonight), a game at Toronto, and a game at Columbus. But that’s a very winnable stretch of games for the Preds, even with those four key players out.
Emerging scoring depth
Earlier this season, the bulk of the Preds’ offense went through their top line. I wrote about how that would be a problem for the Preds moving forward, yet for a while it looked like that trend would continue.
But since November 1st, the Preds have finally seen other players outside of their top line score some goals. Here’s a look at the top goal scorers on the Preds over the past 15 games, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.
Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen have accounted for only 7 of those 39 goals. That’s much better scoring depth. It’s especially good to see guys like Nick Bonino, Kevin Fiala, and Calle Jarnkrok contributing on the score sheet. That’s the kind of players the Preds will need to contribute regularly with the guys they have out of the lineup.
Add to that the arrival of Eeli Tolvanen on Saturday, who scored his first NHL goal in a 5-2 win over Chicago, and you’ve got something. Tolvanen has top six winger written all over him. If the Preds can count on him to fill up the net, they will be sitting pretty by the time Forsberg and Arvidsson and Turris return.
One caveat is that the Preds went 8-5-1 in that stretch of 15 games. While that’s not terrible, it’s not as good as their 9-3-0 start before November 1st. Plus their overall scoring is down from 3.5 goals per game to 2.8 goals per game.
But remember, this stretch of injury problems is about survival more than dominance. The Preds won’t be as dominant in this stretch, there’s no question about that. If the Preds are going to survive this stretch of 20 games (more or less) without four of their top players, they will need this emerging scoring depth to continue.
That is if they continue to get excellent play from their most important player. Who is their most important player, you ask?
Pekka Rinne, Of Course
With the injury crisis at hand, it’s important to remember that their single most important player is still healthy. Pekka Rinne is the key to the Preds success every single night. If he’s in the lineup, the Preds have a chance.
Look at this very normal save by Pekka Rinne. #Preds still in control in the 3rd period.
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) December 2, 2018
Despite his last four outings, where he’s allowed ten goals in four games, Rinne should still be considered a Vezina Trophy candidate this season. He’s amassed a .934 save percentage and a 1.86 goals allowed average, which are #2 and #1 in the league respectively. He’s also generated 10.72 goals saved above average (GSAA) according to Corsica Hockey, which ranks 3rd in the league. Last year, Rinne had a 13.07 GSAA and walked away with the Vezina Trophy.
Juuse Saros has had his struggles, and may still be feeling the effects of the workload he had while starting in place of Rinne in late October. But with Pekka Rinne back healthy, the Predators have to feel like they can win any game on their schedule.
— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —