Martel's Musings: Game 4 - Predators at Islanders
Nashville is now standing firmly atop the Central Division, albeit very early, and is among only six teams that remain perfect through the first few games in the 2015-16 season. However, could its 3-0-0 record be in danger against the New York Islanders?
Three straight games, three underwhelming performances that earned Nashville victories. Some may call that just being lucky, however I think it's a solid mixture of great goaltending, stellar defense and timely scoring.
Predicted line combinations based on morning skate:
NOTE: Nashville had an optional morning skate on Thursday morning in Brooklyn. Lines below are from Wednesday's morning skate.
(Line combinations thanks to our buddy Thomas Willis with the Predators)
#Preds lines at practice: Forsberg-Fisher-Neal Wilson-Ribeiro-Smith Bourque-Hodgson-Jarnkrok Nystrom-Guastad-Watson/Arvidsson— Thomas Willis (@TomAWillis) October 14, 2015
D-pairings for the #Preds the same as they have been.— Thomas Willis (@TomAWillis) October 14, 2015
Forward Line One: Filip Forsberg / Mike Fisher / James Neal
Forward Line Two: Colin Wilson / Mike Ribeiro / Craig Smith
Forward Line Three: Gabriel Bourque / Cody Hodgson / Calle Jarnkrok
Forward Line Four: Eric Nystrom / Paul Gaustad / Austin Watson (or Viktor Arvidsson)
Defensive Pair One: Shea Weber / Roman Josi
Defensive Pair Two: Barret Jackman / Seth Jones
Defensive Pair Three: Mattias Ekholm / Ryan Ellis
Predicted Goaltender: Pekka Rinne (Would be fourth straight start)
SCRATCHES: Victor Bartley, Anthony Bitetto
Three Things vs New York Islanders
Giving Bourque a break
For three games, I've fought with the fact that both Bourque and Nystrom were garnering time on ice rather than just handing it over to both Arvidsson and Watson. I firmly believe that the latter pair of the four aforementioned players can and will be successful to a degree in the NHL, and a piece to the puzzle for the Predators.
However, after watching his utter tenacity in locking down the fourth -- and sometimes third -- line, Bourque has proven that there remains an element to his game that the two rookies just can't offer.
And it's not something that you can really bottle up and pass to the next generation. Bourque's speed and prowess to knock the opposition off the puck -- along with a slight offensive edge to his game -- isn't something that can necessarily be taught, rather developed by a player that is consistently fighting for a nightly spot on an NHL roster.
Don't take that as a knock on Bourque, but more so his ability to prove to coaches that he's worth adding to the roster.
First true test
If Carolina, Edmonton and New Jersey were a way to ease them into the season, the Islanders are going to be a kick in the face if Nashville can't figure out its kinks.
There hasn't been near enough pressure by the Predators in each of the second and third periods of their previous three wins. Nashville will get off to a hot start, score a goal -- or sometimes two -- and then back off and let the opposition do everything in their power to even the score and more before the final horn.
You could make an argument that score effects plays some part in Nashville's seeming prevent-style defense after its taken a lead, however score effects don't really mean diddly when a team like Nashville leads by a single goal for the majority of regulation.
Regardless of what the score is or whether Nashville leads by one or more goals, the basic fact of the matter is that offensive pressure shouldn't be let up over the course of a 60 minute hockey game. Your defense is only going to be able to do so much, Rinne included.
It doesn't matter how good your team is at back-checking the play to clear the puck out of the zone, eventually it's going to come back and burn you.
Stellar special teams play
It's worth noting one more time that we've only seen three games of in-season action this year for the Predators. With that out of the way, the power play and penalty kill units are hands down tenfold better than they were last season.
Whether that has to do with the majority of the roster remaining intact from last season and essentially being a continuation of the previous years efforts, whatever work the coaching staff has done to improve what was one of the biggest holes on the ice last season has been exciting to watch unfold.
The power play is converting at 28.6 percent (two of seven to start the year) while the penalty kill has eliminated nine of 10 penalties coming their way -- with the only power play goal allowed coming with 100 seconds left during regulation Tuesday night in a 6-on-4 situation with the extra skater on the ice, an avenue that most teams would have a decent opportunity to score.
That being said, both units currently sit inside the top ten of the league. They may not necessarily stay there, but it's promising to say the least.
Player to Watch
(Game 3 PtW: Austin Watson. Result? 11:07 ice time and a +1 on the night)
Mike Fisher: Fisher's been held off the stat sheet for Nashville's first three games of the year. The 35-year-old forward is going to get going sometime and no better time than tonight against the Islanders to do so.
(Game 2 Prediction: 3-1 Predators win. Result? 3-1 Predators win. CURRENT RECORD: 3-0.)
Nashville drops its first game of the season in a humbling 4-2 loss to the Islanders after being out-skated and out-shot for the fourth game in a row.