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The Little Things: A Look at Some Under the Radar Plays in Nashville

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Goals and big saves? Nah. We’re here for the little things in life.

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Nashville Predators tallied a 2-1 record last week - two impressive wins over the Avalanche and Flyers before a road defeat in New York. Instead of discussing the standout performances, this new series will be centered on showcasing little things, under the radar plays which likely went unnoticed.

Anyone can talk about the greatness of Pekka Rinne, but did you also realize how effective Nashville’s net front pressure was? Now you will.

Enjoy the debut edition of The Little Things! I’d love to hear your feedback.

Arvi’s attacking defense

The praise for Viktor Arvidsson continues to grow, and rightfully so. His offensive game is lethal with easily a team-high 25 shots, and even when he isn’t scoring, Arvi contributes to the Preds in many ways.

Offensively, Arvidsson has speed for days and his gritty play around the net pays dividends. One example came just days ago against the Avalanche, as he pushed aside a defender in the blue ice which set up a Roman Josi goal. Arvidsson took a spill of his own after the horn sounded but is no stranger to taking hits - eight so far this season.

I could go on and on, but let’s talk defense.

It’s an under appreciated aspect when evaluating forwards. However, when you look at how Arvidsson has performed this fall, he has to be considered one of the top defensive wings in Nashville. To support this, a clip was found in each of last week’s three games to showcase his defensive efforts.

Seconds into the Colorado game, the Avs raced out on a 1-v-1 with a difficult angle, and Arvidsson made certain the puck didn’t reach Pekka Rinne, getting his stick in front of the shot at just the right moment:

Against the Flyers, we saw an “Arvi hustle” play as the young forward just tipped a back pass and hustled down ice:

The takeaway would ultimately lead to a shot from the left point by Josi, forcing Michal Neuvirth to make a diving save in front of him.

But the best of the best came in Madison Square Garden against the Rangers:

Notice how Arvi was upset he missed the initial pass to David Desharnais, slamming his stick against the ice before racing back. If he doesn’t make that play, it’s a Chris Kreider bomb waiting to go off.

Mattias Ekholm: still underrated

It feels repetitive, but it’s still worth mentioning how underrated Mattias Ekholm is.

With the absence of Ryan Ellis (and Roman Josi for a few games), Ekholm has stepped up - leading all Predators in TOI this season (25:53). That will be a career-high by season’s end, surpassing last season’s 23:28 average. Ekholm provided a great tag team partner for Samuel Girard when the rookie wasn’t a recurring scratch, and is now with Josi for the time being.

There were several clutch defensive plays by Ekholm last week, highlighted by his diving blocked shot against Colorado. Rather than share the popular clip which you’ve likely seen by now, here’s a couple under the radar moments. How about one against one of the top goal scorers over the last four seasons, Wayne Simmonds?

Knowing Simmonds is right-handed, Ekholm read him like a book to make the poke check look easy. He also had one against the Avalanche which nearly made the story, but instead, let’s go back to MSG:

The Rangers were on the power play here, and this around the boards pass to Mika Zibanejad put Ekholm and Josi in a tough spot. Josi has to shift and front Zibanejad here, leaving the slot wide open. New York tries for a backdoor play here, an area they heavily targeted on Saturday, but thankfully Ekholm recognizes it and lifts Rick Nash’s stick. If you look closely at Zibanejad’s face, it’s a no-look pass, so credit Ekholm for sniffing it out.

Fiala flies in Philly

“You sound like a broken record - Fiala, Fiala, Fiala.”

The great Terry Crisp had amazing one-liners as always when he joined Willy Daunic for the Philadelphia matchup, including this one when Daunic consistently mentioned Fiala’s name throughout the broadcast.

The 21-year-old winger was all over the ice on Thursday, delivering one of his best performances of the season. At times, we’ve been frustrated with Fiala. He has a tendency to disappear offensively, but when he’s on, he’s a joy to watch.

Two words: stick skills. His control of the puck here was phenomenal, avoiding Shayne Gostisbehere (and a broken stick) against the wall to set up an eventual shot for P.K. Subban.

Earlier in the period, Fiala flashed his speed to pickpocket Gostisbehere again, setting up a 2-on-1 the other way:

Remember when Fiala broke his leg five months ago? Me neither.

Ruthless shift by 22-10-15

The third line of Fiala, Colton Sissons and Craig Smith found their groove in last week’s three games. It has proven to be a dangerous unit given their shot volume, and one particular shift in the Flyers game was quite ruthless:

The shift was so long (56 seconds) that I couldn’t fit it into one GIF. In total, the collective group, which also included Ekholm and Josi, fired five shots towards the net. And this is at even strength.

Defensive rotation

This defensive rotation featured two players who have been criticized as of late - Matt Irwin and Calle Jarnkrok. The Irwin heat is warranted. I could have easily included two plays in the New York game where he was burnt, but it’s too obvious. As for Jarny, it is disappointing to see him without a goal through eight games, but he’s contributed in other ways. His season-long CF% isn’t encouraging, although it’s trending in the right direction with marks of 66.6% and 70% in his last two appearances.

Let’s breakdown this rotation from last Tuesday:

You see Irwin manning up Sven Andrighetto to ensure there’s no tip opportunity, and he later blocks a shot in sprawling fashion. If you watch Jarnkrok, his head is on a swivel to play passing lanes, then he deflects a shot from Mikko Rantanen.

I could’ve also mentioned Anthony Bitetto here, given he is playing alongside Irwin, but I’ll talk more about him later.

Ugh...Aberg

Yeah...it wasn’t a good week for Pontus Aberg.

The 24-year-old was whistled for two penalties against Colorado, then was a healthy scratch for the northeast road trip. Aberg was expected to be a breakout contender this year, but has shown us nothing thus far. His minutes are significantly decreasing when he’s on the ice (below 9:00 vs. Chicago), and he’s in Peter Laviolette’s doghouse.

Here’s one penalty call:

Let’s point something out real quick: that’s Carl Soderberg who receives the puck at center ice. He’s eight years older than Aberg.

Aberg is puck watching while casually skating back, allowing Soderberg to take the pass before Aberg can adjust. This leads to a failed poke check, then an obvious slashing call.

Freddy G avoids icing

Welcome back, Freddy G!

This was Gaudreau’s season debut as he hustled to avoid an icing call, which ultimately set up Austin Watson’s goal. He’ll never log over 10 minutes a game, but it’s the little things like this which will keep him on the roster until Nick Bonino returns from injury.

Pressuring the crease

The Predators put loads of pressure of Avs goaltender Semyon Varlamov in their Tuesday meeting, with three of their four goals coming in or around the crease.

Is that good?

Nashville’s net front presence has been effective this season, thanks in large part to the acquisition of Scott Hartnell. This play against Colorado may not have resulted in an opening period goal, but was a sign of things to come later that evening:

This combination of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Hartnell leads all Preds forward groups with four power play points.

Salomaki’s dirty work

Miikka Salomaki begins the clip with a hit, then battles to retrieve the puck in order to set up a scoring chance by Jarnkrok. He’s not a scoring threat, but at this point, provides the Preds more than Aberg would on the second line.

Bitetto’s net front D

Quick instincts here by Tony B. He points out a potential attacker coming in the slot, then notices Dale Weise is sneaking behind him for a point-blank chance. He’s put in solid work in limited games. Just needs to stay out of the box.