clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

How The Predators Survive Without Filip Forsberg

New, comments

It’s not ideal—and maybe it’s only temporary—but the Predators will need to find a way without Scoresberg for now.

NHL: Nashville Predators at Calgary Flames Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

It was announced on Saturday that Filip Forsberg is on injured reserve for now with “no timetable” for his return. The Predators have not revealed the nature of the injury, so there is no telling what it could be. There wasn’t an obvious injury in Friday night’s loss to the Wild but that hasn’t stopped folks from panicking.

Let’s face the music. Forsberg hadn’t missed a start since 2014 and has racked up 220 points, including 105 goals, in that time span. He’s scored 14 game winning goals in that time, while also contributing huge goals in the playoffs. He’s an essential part of the Predators offense, but also plays plenty of special teams: he’s got 20 power play goals since 2014 and prior to this year has played a prominent part of the Predators’ penalty kill.

So this sucks. A lot.

But the Predators should be able to find a way to win games without Forsberg in the lineup. They did it last night against the Wild, and I’m guessing that was no fluke. This Nashville team is talented enough to lose even their top scorer for a period to time and still be able to maintain their current pace in the Central.

The “Top Line” Remains Intact

It’s no secret that the Predators have had dueling top lines for the past month and a half. The JOFA line, with Forsberg, has been great, even if they’ve been split up occasionally. But the Kyle Turris line, with Craig Smith and Kevin Fiala has been even better.

Since arriving in early November, Turris has 18 points in 22 games, which is fantastic, but its really more about how he has impacted Smith and Fiala. Fiala has been on an absolute tear, scoring 10 goals (his first 10 of the year) in 22 games and racking up nine assists. Smith, who looks as good as he’s ever been in his career, has nine goals in that time, also with nine assists.

Not only are they getting the goal production that matters, the Turris line is also driving a ton of possession—better than anyone else on the team.

That’s every combination of Turris, Smith, and Fiala up there with the best the Predators have to offer. And with 250+ minutes of 5-on-5 to measure, we have reason to expect this level of production (or something like it) to continue

This is what you want out of your top line. Goals, shot attempts, puck possession, consistency. You’ll notice that Johansen’s line, with Forsberg, isn’t too far behind the Turris line.

It should be clear who the top line really is on this team, even if the average minutes per game are saying otherwise. Moving forward without Forsberg, however long, is manageable because the Predators still have their most dangerous line intact.

Friendly Scheduling!

The Predators upcoming schedule is reasonable for a couple of reasons. While the Preds do play some tough teams (Vegas, Tampa, Chicago, among others) in the month of January, the vast majority of those are home games. The Preds play six of their nine games in January in their home barn, a place where they’ve gone 12-4-2 in 18 games so far. Among the teams on their upcoming schedule are Arizona twice (last place in the Pacific), Florida (not currently in playoff position), and New York (barely in playoff position).

Also, the All-Star break is coming up. The Predators will get a whole week off in mid-January to give Forsberg a chance to rest up/heal up.

So for the month of January (I have no idea if he will be out for a month or not, I am just using an arbitrary time span because we have no other information) the Predators will only need to be without Forsberg for nine games and most of those are at home.

That is doable.

Ryan Ellis Is Returning Soon

It is universally unfair that the Predators finally get Ryan Ellis back only to have Forsberg go on IR. Why, hockey gods? Why?

But the return of Ellis does a couple of things. First, and most obviously, Ellis’ return should round out the top four, giving the blue line the same look it had late in the 16-17 season. We don’t yet know who Ellis will play with initially, as there are a lot of options, but we will probably eventually see Ellis return as Josi’s partner, while Ekholm returns as Subban’s. No matter who he plays with, Ellis will bring an elite level of defensive play with offensive skill that most other teams in the league would die to have.

By losing Forsberg and gaining Ellis, the Predators are exchanging one deficiency for another, but defensive play—and not scoring—has arguably been the most problematic deficiency for the Preds so far this year. The Preds are 6th in the league in goals allowed, mostly due to the play of Pekka Rinne, who has been top 10 goaltender all year in most categories. Scoring has not really been an issue for the Preds, as they are 6th in the league in that category as well. Expect a drop in that area with Forsberg out, but perhaps not a huge one.

The other gap that Ellis helps fill—a gap that grows significantly bigger with Forsberg out of the lineup—is on the power play. Forsberg has been a huge part of the power play this year, scoring nine goals on the man advantage. His shooting ability will be difficult to replace.

But Ellis has been an important part of the power play as well. He played the third most minutes of any Predators defenseman on the man advantage last year, behind Josi and Subban. He scored only four goals in the regular season, but he also had two in the playoffs.

Let me be clear: the power play help that Ellis provides does not come close to replacing Forsberg’s ability on the power play. But it may help provide options for the coaching staff to work with that otherwise might not have been there. They seem set on playing two defensemen on the power play, so Ellis gives them a better option than Mattias Ekholm. Or maybe they realize now that two defensemen on the power play isn’t ideal, so they just rotate Josi, Subban, and Ellis, which would be fine.

Please, For The Love Of All That Is Holy And Good, Stay Out of the Box

If you are really going to do this—if you are really going to survive without Forsberg in the lineup—you are going to have to stop taking so many damn penalties.

The Predators lead the league in penalty kill time (258 minutes) and NO it is not because the refs hate us. It is because they are playing too undisciplined and, for whatever reason, they have not caught up to the new slashing/stick fouls enforcement. I get that some penalties are necessary, but it is not unreasonable to want to reduce the number of penalties you take. When you lead the league in a bad category, you should do something to fix it.

Just throwing this out there: if the Predators reduced their penalty kill time by even 10%, they would be somewhere around the league average. Right now they are in the box for 6.7 minutes per game. A 10% reduction puts them closer to 6.0, which would give the team about a half-minute more per game at 5-on-5. That may not sound like much, but that’s essentially an entire shift.

Actually, it’s more than that. The transition from playing on the penalty kill to playing at even strength requires more than just getting a man out of the box. Your personnel changes, your tactics change, your defensive structure changes... your whole mindset changes.

The amount of time on the penalty kill has been the one thing holding this team back from complete dominance. It is also an area of the game the team can ill afford to ignore without its top scorer in the lineup.

Stats and charts from Hockey-Reference.com, NaturalStatTrick.com, and HockeyViz.com.