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Nashville Predators @ Los Angeles Kings Preview: Calle-fornia

Hehe. Calle-fornia. Like Calle Jarnkrok? And California? Hehehe.

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Predators will slink their way into Los Angeles having lost their last three games. They are clinging to the 3rd spot in the Central, with St. Louis charging from behind, and badly need two points.

The Kings are right there in the hunt for a playoff spot as well, sitting at three points behind the Blues in the wildcard and seven points behind the Ducks in the Pacific. They made some strange moves at the deadline—some of which color the team as buyers and some of which color the team as sellers—but it’s getting close to spring, which means the Kings are always dangerous.

The Los Angeles Kings

The Kings have beaten the Preds twice already this season. In October, the Kings won in overtime on a goal by Jeff Carter. Then in late December, the Kings blew out the Preds 4-0, getting three goals in the 3rd period to put the game away. Seeing as how the Kings are sitting five points below the Preds in the standings, these losses don’t look great (especially that 4-0 shutout loss at home).

Carter continues to be anything and everything for the Kings at the offensive end. He leads the Kings with 30 goals and 56 points. The next closest is Tanner Pearson with 40 points. This top-heavy attack has put the Kings at 23rd in the league at scoring with 2.45 goals per game. If Carter or Pearson have an off-night, there’s not much else going on offensively. Even Anze Kopitar is having a down year in terms of shooting the puck: he’s currently shooting 6.6%, nearly half of his career 12.1% average.

Speaking of top-heavy, the Kings defense. Drew Doughty leads the blueline with 8 goals and 36 points. He won’t win back-to-back Norris Trophies (can we just go ahead and give it Brent Burns?) but he is still a horse for the Kings. He’s 2nd in the league in time on ice per game at 27:17, behind Dustin Byfuglien’s 27:22.

Beyond that? The 6th ranked Kings defense is pretty much by committee. Jake Muzzin, Derek Forbort, and Alec Martinez share duties filling out the top four which holds opponents to just 2.48 goals per game. When your top guy is playing over 27 minutes a game, you can avoid the problems that most teams have filling out a full six defensemen. Guys like Kevin Gravel and Paul Ladue are names you’ll see, but probably not know.

The most bizarre trade of the deadline came when Tampa Bay sent Ben Bishop to L.A. in exchange for Peter Budaj, who was really quite good this year. Bishop has lost his first two starts for the Kings, allowing six goals on 51 shots. Jonathan Quick is back—and healthy?—and has a 91.9 save percentage in three games since his return.

Will the Kings have enough fuel in the tank to get them to the finish? If they can, it will be because someone else in the Pacific putters away at the finish. My money’s on the Ducks.

The Nashville Predators

Ok, so there’s no doubt about who the hottest player on the Predators is at this point. Filip Forsberg leads the team in goals and has been sensational over the last two months. The whole first line has been out of this world and he is a big reason why.

But let’s not forget about Calle.

Calle Jarnkrok has been one of the better Predator forwards since the calendar turned to 2017. Since January 1st, Jarnrok has 8 goals and 10 assists in 30 games, generating 18 of his 26 points so far this season. He’s shooting 12.0% on the season, which, for one of the best defensive forwards on the team, has been huge.

Part of this is because of his new role as the 2C/3C on the team. While he’s spent the majority of this season playing center in some capacity, it wasn’t until the last 20 games or so that he’s been getting 2C minutes along with 2nd line linemates like James Neal and Colin Wilson. Jarnkrok has responded to an increased role with increased production, which is always great to see.

The great thing about Jarnkrok is that his skill and style of play tends to work well with others. His combination of defense and offense naturally makes most of his linemates better. While Jarny provides a solid foundation, his linemates can worry about their own particular set of skills. Right now those linemates are Willy and Nealer. But look at how much he improves the shot attempt differential of all the forwards he’s played with this year (minimum of 50 minutes TOI together):

Impressive stuff.

First, you’ll probably notice that three of the four players who see a drop in their shot attempt percentage are all three members of the top line. This is less a reflection of Jarnkrok bringing them down and more a reflection of that line being so damn good already. That line is just fine as it is, no need for Jarnkrok to get involved.

But looking at the other forwards on this list, Jarnkrok’s presence on the ice improves, in some cases quite dramatically, most players’ shot attempt percentage. Colin Wilson in particular moves from a below 50% possession forward to a 56%+ possession forward with Jarnkrok. That’s pretty incredible. Neal and Smith see a smaller but still noticeable jump in puck possession. Even Colton Sissons and Austin Watson, two players not particularly adept at puck possession, do considerably better when paired with Jarnkrok.

So while Forsberg is getting a lot of the attention for his incredible play, and for good reason, Jarnkrok has been a big part of the Predators’ second-half playoff push.

Reasons To Watch

  • Might we see Juuse Saros in net? Pekka Rinne was the only reason the Preds got a point on Tuesday night, but the coaching staff might give him the night off anyway. Recent patterns would suggest Saros gets the nod.
  • Forsberg has 27 goals and is seven away from breaking the single season Preds scoring record. How about a hat-trick to get him within four?
  • We’ve made a lot of the 4th line being terrible (because they are) so let’s see if there are any changes that will be made. Here was my idea:

The Important Details

OH GOOD. A 9:30 PM puck drop. TV: FS-TN, Radio: 102.5 The Game.