If the 18-19 Nashville Predators are going to improve upon their disappointing finish to the 17-18 season, it will be in large part because of the answers to the following two questions.
Can Kevin Fiala be a legitimate scoring threat every night?
Kevin Fiala enters the 18-19 season coming off a career year. With 23 goals and 25 assists last year, he demolished his previous career best in scoring (16 points in 16-17).
But here’s the rub: at only .60 points per game, Fiala was only the 9th best skater on the roster. He played 80 games and was incredibly streaky, going through several goal-less droughts over the course of the season.
To be a legitimate top six scorer, he will have to be better than that.
Right now the Predators only have two consistent 30-goal scorers: Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson. It’s been five years since Ryan Johansen’s 30 goal campaign in Columbus, and I doubt his role allows him to get there again. If the Predators are going to bring scoring balance to their top six forwards, it will be up to Kevin Fiala to provide it.
Look, 23 goals for a 22 year old is nothing to scoff at. But the Preds did nothing in the off-season to improve their offense, so any improvement in goal scoring will have to come from within. Craig Smith, who’s still reliable at 29, is still only a 20-goal scorer. Johansen and Turris need to create space and distribute, so they are busy with that. And it’s too soon to wait for Eeli Tolvanen to make an impact.
It’s going to have to be Kevin Fiala.
He’s going to have to be a player that teams worry about, much like they worry about Arvidsson and Forsberg. If opposing teams start having to game plan for Fiala because of his scoring ability, this Preds team will have a much improved offense.
Can the Preds stay out of the penalty box?
Safe to say that the answer to this question for last year’s team was NO.
If the Preds want to challenge for another Presidents’ Trophy and then also challenge for a Stanley Cup, that will have to change.
The good news? Two of their top three biggest penalty takers last year were Scott Hartnell and Austin Watson, who combined for 205 penalty minutes. Hartnell just retired from hockey and Watson will be serving a 27 game suspension, so that should help things.
But it’s still a problem. The Predators led the NHL with 928 penalty minutes last year. Even if you take Watson and Hartnell out of the equation, the Preds still would have been in the top 15 for penalties. That sort of unhinged penalty taking puts a strangle hold on the game and tires out your penalty killers.
Something’s got to change.
Penalties have got to be minimized. They can directly affect the flow of the game, not allowing the Preds to dictate the pace of the game. How often did we see the Preds start games slow and then get down a goal or two after the 1st period, mostly due to an early penalty or two?
All the Predators need is to reduce the amount of penalties they take. We can’t expect penalties to be eliminated from their game entirely. If the Nashville Predators can reduce their time spent in the penalty box, they can dictate the pace of games more effectively and be more consistent on a nightly basis.
— Image via USA Today —