And so, Kevin Fiala’s season has ended.
Given that Fiala is done for the year, what do the Predators do to replace him? Here are some viable options for the Preds to resolve Fiala’s absence in the lineup.
We know very little about the Pontus Aberg’s absence from the lineup on Wednesday. He was curiously a healthy scratch and it seems like maybe a coaching decision. He didn’t appear to have an injury creep up in the series against the Blackhawks, so it would appear that Aberg is completely capable of stepping in to play.
Aberg was very good in the four games against Chicago. In four playoff games, he’s 4th among all Nashville forwards in Corsi-For per sixty minutes at 61.46, which puts him behind Smith, Fiala, and Arvidsson. He plays a very similar game to those guys and with Fiala out he will be sorely needed.
So why didn’t he play Wednesday? No clue.
Obviously the coaching staff could not have foreseen that Fiala would get injured, but the decision to play McLeod and Fiddler on the 4th line instead of getting Aberg more time is curious at best.
My only guess is that the Narrative That Will Not Die found its way into the minds of the coaching staff once again. You know this one, the whole “we need someone to go out and pound on the Blues just to show them we mean business” or even worse, the whole “we need someone to go out and punch some guys, just so they don’t get too touchy-feely with our top forwards.” McLeod can do that, Aberg can’t.
Surely by now we all know this is a narrative that DOES NOT ADD UP, mostly because there is a PUCK out on the ice that is literally bouncing into Nashville net more often when guys like McLeod and Fiddler are out there than when they are not.
(Full disclosure, redux: I know Fiddler scored the game winner. I am over the moon about that. Please write me letters if you think Fiddler gives us a better chance to win more games in this series than Aberg. I will read them, I promise)
Anyways, Aberg deserves to play in Fiala’s absence, assuming there isn’t some undisclosed problem we don’t know about.
Smith has been battling an injury since Game 3 of the Chicago series, but recently has been skating in practice.
Calle Jarnkrok is participating in the morning skate, as is Craig Smith. Neither practiced before the series.— Adam Vingan (@AdamVingan) April 26, 2017
That’s good news. If there is anyone more capable of playing like Fiala, it is Craig Smith.
But this injury seems to be more than just a nagging one. It looked like he got his ankle twisted when fighting off a check against the boards, but it is really hard to tell. I would like to think that if Smith was completely healthy, he would have played in Game 1, especially with Aberg and Jarnkrok also out.
Unless, of course, it’s that whole Narrative That Will Not Die thing. In this case, I would almost applaud Smith not skating, simply because the Blues’ physical play is not a good antidote to nagging injuries.
But it may be go time for Smith. The team needs you, Craig.
Take everything I said about Smith’s injury and double it. He’s been battling the same problems all year and they just don’t seem to go away. I would imagine that his lack of playing time has a lot to do with that.
On top of that, Salo wouldn’t be the most obvious Fiala replacement player. He isn’t as skilled and doesn’t have the offensive game that Fiala does. But he has speed and can cause chaos for opposing defenses. At this point, that’s probably enough.
I would put the chances of Salo replacing Fiala at 0.20%.
Harry Z found his way into the lineup against the top seeded Hawks, why not against the Blues?
Again, much like the Aberg situation, I’m not sure why he doesn’t get a look here. He has great speed and can obviously shoot. He’s no Fiala, no Smith... he’s not even Salo. But he can skate well and can beat some of the slower Blues defenders if needed. He also works really hard on the boards, something that the Blues are good at.
He has a tendency to get stifled in the offensive zone when he has the puck, but he doesn’t need to be a playmaker. He should be on a line with James Neal or Mike Fisher, so he can rely on them to fight those battles.
As far as shooting, he has shown an ability to get to the front of the net, as per this visual from hockeyviz.com
With a goal under his belt already in these playoffs, Zolnierczyk wouldn’t be a bad option.
The Black Aces!
Ok! So what about guys from Milwaukee?
If you don’t already know, the Admirals season ended yesterday after getting swept by the Griffins in the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs. This is a sad thing and we should all mourn the end of a great season for the Ads.
However, this does present some Black Ace options for the Preds. Here are a few viable options:
- Frederick Gaudreau: Freddy made his debut earlier this season (the soup game!) and played in nine total games. He is the most “Fiala-like” of the current Admirals lineup, though that’s a bit of a stretch. He is NOT Fiala. He plays some hard-nosed defense and has grown his offensive game somewhat. He’s a small winger that can go get the puck in the offensive zone and is very reliable on defense.
- Vladislav Kamenev: Also made his debut earlier this year, but only played in two games. He looked pretty tentative and maybe even overwhelmed. But still, he had 51 points in 70 AHL games this season.
- Adam Payerl: Size! Adam’s got it. He’s a bigger forward that could come in and just wreck folks. He’s also a decent passer. Payerl could come in and, I don’t know, hit Carl Gunnarsson a few times?
What Could The Lineup Look Like?
Given all the above options, here’s my best guess on what the forward lineup looks like in the post-Kevin Fiala world.
(note: this is assuming that, in addition to Smith, Calle Jarnkrok can play on Friday)
Filip Forsberg - Ryan Johansen - Viktor Arvidsson
Colin Wilson - Mike Fisher - James Neal
Pontus Aberg - Calle Jarnkrok - Craig Smith
Harry Zolnierczyk - Colton Sissons - Austin Watson