One Big Thing
It’s amazing how good your team can look if the people you pay to be your best players are... well... actually your best players.
Matt Duchene, Mikael Granlund, and Roman Josi all found the back of the net for Nashville in Saturday’s 4-1 win over the Arizona Coyotes. Each of those guys are currently averaging a point-per-game or better. Josi had a four-point night, just two nights after Granlund had one of his own in St. Louis.
And that’s the primary reason why the Predators, now 8-1-1 in their last 10 games, suddenly look like the dangerous, well-rounded team we expected them to be just a couple of seasons ago. I’ve lost count of how many “they’re playing good hockey, they’re just not scoring/are snakebitten” takes I’ve had to defend in articles or podcasts when talking about guys like Duchene, Granlund, or even Ryan Johansen. Because as accurate as that sentiment may have been, it does hurt your team when your top-line guys are only winding up on the scoresheet once every 3-4 games.
That hasn’t been the story this season though. Duchene (1G, 1A tonight) has evolved from team pariah to a guy who legitimately makes you perk up whenever he touches the puck. It’s hard to imagine that just a few months ago, Duchene was left unprotected at the expansion draft, and even harder to imagine that Seattle chose to pass on him.
Then there’s Granlund, whose tenure in Nashville has been like riding a roller coaster with a bad safety record. Just two years ago it seemed like the Preds were poised to cut their losses with the other half of the Kevin Fiala trade. But two “yeah, why not” contract signings later, Granlund looks like that high-IQ playmaker the Predators haven’t had since Paul Kariya.
This isn’t even counting Josi or Juuse Saros (23 saves tonight, an absolute shame the Preds couldn’t lock up the shutout for him). Both guys are off to incredible starts to the season as well.
The success or failure of the 2021-22 Nashville Predators was always going to hinge on whether the big guns could finally hit their stride. We have a lot of hockey left to play, but if the Preds’ top players can stay anywhere CLOSE to the level they’re at right now, there’s no reason to think the framework of a contender isn’t somewhere in this locker room.
- The first period of this game was the epitome of why this year’s Predators team might hit a little different for fans this season. Duchene had the early first goal, but that was followed by Mark Borowiecki’s five-minute major and subsequent ejection for an ugly knee-to-knee hit. On that five-minute kill, a trip from Dante Fabbro put the Preds on the wrong side of a 5-on-3 advantage for a full 2:00.
Maybe it’s my PTSD from covering the past three seasons of this team, but I was conditioned to believe the Preds would completely squander their early momentum and default back into their “play to their competition” mode.
Instead, the Predators — backstopped by an incredible run of saves from Saros — withstood the barrage, killed the penalty, and immediately drew a power play of their own that led to Josi’s first goal. This entire sequence was the loudest I’ve heard Bridgestone Arena at any point this season.
When you think of how many games we’ve watched where the Preds fold at the first sign of adversity, the fact that Nashville has been able to have an answer for early punches this season is a clear sign that there’s something different about the vibe of this year’s team, and that’s a very good thing.
- Speaking of the Borowiecki play, it wouldn’t surprise me if there’s some sort of call from the league tomorrow. Watching the replay, the knee-to-knee didn’t look as malicious as it did reckless; Jaskin tried to cut back towards the center of the ice, and Borowiecki just threw himself sideways at Jaskin to stop him. Jaskin didn’t return.
- It’s good to see Eeli Tolvanen get a couple of points (2 A) after a tough start to the season. I’ve liked his game the past week — getting aggressive on the forecheck, strong play in the neutral zone, defensively sound — but he wasn’t getting any traction on the scorecard. Watching him play lately, you get the sense that he’s poised for a big run soon. Maybe tonight’s game was the beginning of that.
- If there’s one sore spot from this game, it’s the Preds’ penchant for procuring penalties. Arizona got six power play chances tonight, a lot of those coming on avoidable penalties from the Preds. This has been a storyline for the past handful of games. As my colleague Shaun Smith said on an recent edition of the On The Forecheck podcast, you want to play aggressive and with a bit of an edge, but you don’t want to cross the line. The Coyotes scored on the last opportunity late in the third, but they had a number of good looks on their other power plays. You get the feeling a better team than Arizona is going to make Nashville pay dearly for those types of plays if they don’t get it cleared up.
Duchene puts the Preds up 1-0 in the first.
Josi unloads a one-timer for a 2-0 lead.
Mikael Granlund makes it 3-0 Preds in the 2nd period.
The BANK IS OPEN for Josi... 4-0 Nashville.
Jakob Chychrun ends Saros’s shutout bid late in the 3rd.