As the Nashville Predators prepare for a critical Game 4 against the Vancouver Canucks, one of the biggest issues surrounding the team is the production of their purported top scoring line, with Sergei Kostitsyn and Patric Hornqvist flanking Mike Fisher. Over at NHL.com, that's one of the main themes related to the Preds:
With the Predators trailing Vancouver 2-1 in their Western Conference Semifinals series, that trio has put up exactly zero points in the three games.
"Right now, they are a little disjointed," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "They're not supporting the puck very well as a group. It all starts -- I always say one end of the ice is always connected to the other end. If you're not breaking out really well in terms of your breakouts and managing the neutral zone, which is the next zone you encounter, what you decided in the neutral zone will dictate whether you're going to be in an offensive mode or forechecking mode or retrieval mode on a turnover.
The question facing coach Trotz is whether a shakeup might be in order - with Steve Sullivan not expected to play tomorrow, we know that at least one fresh face will be in the lineup already. Perhaps it's time to break up this line and seek a new combination which might produce different results?
The table below represents 5-on-5 data from Behind the Net, showing how often each of the main Predator forwards shoots the puck (goals + saved shots + shots that missed the net).
The opportunity I see here is that Patric Hornqvist isn't your typical goal-scorer who can create his own scoring chances; he typically does his best work when teammates are firing the puck and he's working for tips and rebounds. The problem is, he's working with SK74 on the other side, a guy who (as I've said pretty much all season) simply does not shoot enough.
Two candidates to ride alongside Fisher and Hornqvist might be Martin Erat or Jordin Tootoo, both of whom shoot about 50% more often than Kostitsyn. Obviously those two bring entirely different skill sets to the table, but switching either of them with Kostitsyn might not disrupt the other lines. SK74 would seem to do fine alongside Smithson & Spaling, for example, as his defensive work is usually quite good, and his style would probably also fit well in place of Erat on the Legwand/Ward line.
The wildcard situation, of course, involves Steve Sullivan's injury. Depending on who replaces him, J.P. Dumont or Colin Wilson, does it make sense to insert either of them right into that prime spot? If they're going to be relied upon to contribute offensively, giving them just a handful of minutes on the 4th line may not be the best way to go.
What say you, folks? Just plug in a guy for Sully and keep the lines intact, or shuffle the deck?