Another week, another edition of ‘The Little Things.’ Not to be confused with ‘Stranger Things,’ although there were many strange things which happened to the Nashville Predators last week.
I’m looking at you, Kevin Fiala.
Roman Josi is a man on a mission.
Now with the C on his jersey, Nashville’s newest captain has put the team on his back since returning from injury. His shots per game (4.3) is tied with Brent Burns for highest in the league among defensemen, but even when Josi isn’t getting the puck on net, his determination has been unmatched.
Josi almost goes coast-to-coast on the power play, taking on three Chicago defenders and splits two of them. He nearly gets this backhand shot to go from his knees, and likely does if more leverage is applied.
And if we’re talking persistence, this example defines who Josi is:
He gets his shot blocked, regains the puck then crosses over on Ryan Pulock. My goodness.
Please stay healthy, Josi.
More Freddy G, please
Since Frederick Gaudreau was called up, he has provided a sense of urgency the Predators have needed. Although he had a rough Corsi game against the Flames (4.55 CF% and two goals allowed), Freddy G put in solid shifts in the remaining two games last week.
Gaudreau had the lowest TOI against the Blackhawks, but even in that eight minutes and 52 seconds was all over the ice.
Gaudreau is quick, great on the forecheck and can provide offense when given an opportunity.
How in the world did that puck get to Filip Forsberg?
For his efforts in Chicago, Gaudreau was promoted to the third line and centered Scott Hartnell and Craig Smith. His ice time increased to a season-high 13:27 and his 5-on-5 CF% was fifth-best on the team.
Hopefully, we see Freddy stay in this advanced role moving forward.
Watson delivering on both ends
We know what Austin Watson brings to this team - a solid penalty killer who delivers hits and blocks shots. Recently, though, he has turned into a do-everything type of player for the Predators.
In terms of overall play last week, I thought Watson was one of Nashville’s top performers. Over the span of three games, he drew two penalties, handed out 15 hits and blocked six shots. Four of those came against Chicago, but here’s one vs. New York:
But in the same game, I noticed how tireless he is in the offensive zone as well. Just watch this sequence:
Watson levels Brock Nelson, does some sort of spin technique, then gets hooked by Nelson (no penalty called). But he’s not done, getting a few shots from within close range. This random Watson-Johansen-Salomaki line was interesting given we’ve probably never seen them together and never will again, but they gave Jaroslav Halak and the Isles fits.
Ekholm is still underrated
Yep, I’ll say it again.
Last week, I showed how Mattias Ekholm is still undervalued from a league perspective, and he continues to be brilliant. In that article, Ekholm denied Wayne Simmonds 1-v-1, and this time time it’s another dangerous scoring threat, John Tavares, who gets locked down by the Swede.
It’s top-notch poke checking, not phased by the initial stutter from Tavares, and then blocks the puck into the seats.
On this play, Ekholm keeps his eye on the puck, then for a split second turns his head to spot Anders Lee making a move back post. Miikka Salomaki doesn’t see him until late, but Ekholm gets his stick there to ensure Juuse Saros isn’t threatened.
“Crazy Legs Craig Smith”
Craig Smith ended his scoring drought with two goals last week, a well-deserved result for the labor he’s shown this season. Smith never lacks effort, and usually it’s his offensive game which garners attention. But give this guy props for his checking.
Smith never quits on this play, sticking to Kris Versteeg like glue until he gives the puck away.
Smitty delivered three hits vs. Chicago, none greater than this one on Gustav Forsling following a face-off. He’s driven right now, and playing like someone who wants to forget about a horrendous 2016-17 campaign.
Emelin eliminating 3-on-2
It’s true, Alexei Emelin has not had a good season (more on this later). But against Calgary he made a nice defensive play to halt a promising 3-on-2 attempt by the Flames, and it deserves to be mentioned:
You see the 2-on-2 develop into a 3-on-2 as the threatening Johnny Gaudreau joins the rush. Now it’s all about playing passing lanes, and Emelin and P.K. Subban do a nice job of keeping their sticks active.
Emelin is also the guy to clear the puck, finding Johansen who would eventually earn a scoring chance on the other end.
Forsberg back check
It’s hard to find a spot for Forsberg in ‘The Little Things’ column considering his performances aren’t exactly under the radar, but this defensive play probably went unnoticed:
It looks like Johansen gave Forsberg a little nudge on his behind, giving him a little added speed to chase down Andrew Ladd. A big takeaway on the 4-on-4 by Forsberg, because if he doesn’t get there, Anthony Bitetto is left in a tough spot.
P.K. puts out the Flames
This might be my favorite clip of the week. Subban absolutely saved the Preds, who way out of position, on this play:
First thing to notice is one player is just coming off the bench. Then watch the forwards, Forsberg and Johansen. Forsberg is out of the picture and can’t recover in time, while Johansen doesn’t communicate well with Matt Irwin, losing his man in the process.
Now the Flames have a golden 3-on-1 look at the front of the net. Subban recognizes it in from his territory and makes a goal-saving play to break up a Mikael Backland pass.
Emelin can’t ska...walk?
This one is for comedic value. What is going on here?
This isn’t the side of the rink where the zamboni enters and exits, so there can’t be something wrong with the ice. We’ve criticized Emelin all season for being a poor skater. Maybe the issue is he simply can’t walk?