Though the Nashville Predators still find themselves in a playoff position in late November, their position near the top of the league is becoming less and less comfortable.
That’s due in part to their most recent poor outings on the ice. Last Friday, the Preds were blown out in St. Louis 6-2. Then, after beating Anaheim on Sunday, the Preds lost 3-2 to red hot Avs on home ice. Then last night, the Preds were dominated at home by the Coyotes, getting shutout 3-0 despite Arizona starting essentially a 5th string goaltender.
It’s true that some of the issues lie with injury problems. Viktor Arvidsson, P.K. Subban, and Kyle Turris are all out with relatively long term injuries. But there’s still enough talent on the Preds to be able to beat a team like the Coyotes, especially at home.
With that in mind, here’s two changes the Preds should make in response to their recent poor outings.
Healthy scratch Kevin Fiala
It’s no secret that Kevin Fiala hasn’t been producing like the Preds expected this year. Coming off a career year, many expected Fiala to put up similar numbers to last year.
But so far, Fiala has been a huge disappointment.
With only three goals so far, he’s on pace for less than ten goals this year. That would be a career worst for him and a huge step back in his development as a top six winger.
After Thursday night’s struggles against the Coyotes, where Fiala finished dead-last among forwards in even strength shot attempt for percentage (27.3%), it’s time to send a message.
Since Fiala has already been demoted to the bottom six for most of the season, the next logical step is a healthy scratch. If Coach Laviolette scratches Fiala for Saturday’s rivalry game against the Chicago Blackhawks, the message might actually sink in.
Ryan Hartman or Rocco Grimaldi could easily slot in as the 2nd winger on the top line next to Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg. And even if they don’t produce immediately, they can’t be much worse than Fiala in that role.
Overhaul the bottom six
Despite some occasional breakout performances (e.g., Austin Watson’s hat trick against the Ducks), the bottom six forwards for the Preds have been lackluster this year. They are barely treading water from a production standpoint and are drowning when it comes to shot attempt share.
Take a look at this chart from HockeyViz which shows the even strength success rates of various forward pair combinations. Anything on the bottom half of the middle red line is in the “bad” territory, which means they allow more shot attempts than they generate.
I’ve circled all the bottom six combinations in red. Nick Bonino, Colton Sissons, Zac Rinaldo, Miikka Salomaki, and Calle Jarnkrok all stand out as puck possession anchors. Some combinations work better than others, but for the most part, it’s a mess.
So how do you fix this?
Well, not easily. First, you are contractually obligated to continue icing Nick Bonino. He’s a $4 million center and you can’t just sit him. But you’ve got to surround him with players that can mask his inadequacies. Ryan Hartman and Rocco Grimaldi come to mind. Whichever one doesn’t start on the top line in place of Fiala should start next to Bonino, along with Colton Sissons.
Next, you simply cannot keep playing a guy like Miikka Salomaki. I would argue there’s not been a less productive forward on the roster than Salomaki. He’s got two goals, but both are empty netters. He has no assists. He is consistently at the bottom of the list when looking at the team’s nightly shot share producers.
But with these demotions/scratches, you are going to have to look at Milwaukee for replacements. Anthony Richard and Emil Pettersson both come to mind. Richard, a winger, has eight goals in twenty games for the Admirals. He brings speed and shooting ability and is one of the better shot share producers for the Ads. Pettersson, a center, isn’t as good a skater as Richard, but brings a bit more size to the bottom of the lineup.
With 22 of the 23 roster spots already filled, adding two more players would require at least one demotion. At this point, Frederick Gaudreau hasn’t done anything to warrant any more ice time, so he’d be a good option to send back to Milwaukee. He’s on a two way deal, so he doesn’t have to clear waivers.
With these changes, here’s what your forward lines would look like for Saturday:
Forsberg – Johansen – Hartman
Watson – Jarnkrok – Smith
Sissons – Bonino – Grimaldi
Richard – Pettersson – Rinaldo
Scratch: Fiala, Salomaki
I’m sure the coaching staff is equally as frustrated with the team’s recent play. And they certainly have to be fuming about the terrible effort against the Coyotes on Thursday night. But while it’s still early, it would be nice to see at least a few changes in response to the poor outings we’ve seen on the ice over the last week. These two simple changes might be a good start.
— All stats via Natural Stat Trick and Hockey-Reference. Chart via Hockey Viz. Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —