It’s been brewing for awhile and now it’s quite apparent after Tuesday night’s 4-3 shootout loss to Anaheim: the Nashville Predators have a significant problem with their current fourth line arrangement. For a trio playing under ten minutes a game, they’re making a sizeable impact on the game. And it hasn’t been positive.
When Nashville traded for Cody McLeod in the middle of January, things got off to a nice start. The enforcer scored two goals in his first six games, while even getting some time on the power play. The Predators sent the Avalanche a prospect that didn’t seem to be in the team’s plans going forward, so there was little risk.
The addition of Vernon Fiddler in exchange for a fourth round pick raised a few eyebrows, but the upcoming draft is considered not a particularly deep one. Fiddler is a good face-off player, so it was kind of a shrug of the shoulders and a “we’ll see what happens.”
After an expectation for the fourth line to be younger and improved with subtraction of Paul Gaustad and Eric Nystrom before the season started, the Predators have gone back to their old ways.
Fiddler, McLeod, and Harry Zolnierczyk have averaged a 34.18 CF% this season. You don’t expect your fourth line to drive possession, but that number isn’t acceptable for a team with deep playoff aspirations.
When that line is on the ice with the third pair on defense, trouble is usually on the horizon. It was amplified in Anaheim as Laviolette went away from the fourth line entirely after just a couple shifts in the third period.
Nashville is second in the league in terms of fighting majors this season, and that’s not making them more successful despite how many times someone cites it as a momentum change.
A fourth line doesn’t have to put up a goal a night, but it needs to avoid giving up chances while pressuring the other team on the forecheck. That’s not getting accomplished right now, and no amount of unprovoked fights is gonna change that.
It’ll be interesting to see how things are shaken up going forward with the roster. While it’s a pipe dream, wouldn’t a Fiala-Kamanev-Aberg fourth line gives this team a much needed boost and another real threat to score? It’d at least be fascinating to watch, and I’d bet on it being successful. Or how about just moving Smith down to that 4th line for a change of scenery? Newcomer P.A. Parenteau is likely to take minutes away from Smith anyway.
Additionally, Miikka Salomaki’s projected return in the next few days could cause a productive lineup change. Do we get the preseason projected fourth line of Salomaki-Sissons-Watson that was derailed a start of the season? That could very well be an answer. If that happens, the Predators would have to admit the trades for McLeod and Fiddler haven’t worked out, a tough pill to swallow for any GM.
In the best interest of the team, the Predators have to do something. The status quo won’t cut it.