Let’s be honest here about what’s currently going on with the floundering Nashville Predators who have now lost five games in a row; this team isn’t what we were sold over the offseason post-free agency.
Back in September, it was a logical prediction to say the Nashville Predators were poised to make a big jump in the Western Conference by just looking at their player personnel on paper.
The Predators had an aggressive approach to their offseason by adding two impactful veterans in Ryan McDonagh and Nino Niederreiter. Let’s begin with those two players.
McDonagh has been out for two weeks after taking a puck to the face against the New York Islanders and been designated as “week-to-week” with a timetable of “two to four weeks”.
Subsequently, the Predators haven’t won a game since losing McDonagh and they need him back desperately.
As for Niederreiter, he actually leads the Predators in goals with 10, which isn’t saying much considering the Predators are 29th in the NHL in scoring at 2.46 goals per game.
Niederreiter hasn’t been terrible, but I thought his two-way impact would have been felt more. The truth is this team gets shredded on the defensive end and commonly leans on Juuse Saros to bail them out. Tell me you haven’t heard that one before.
That exact scenario happened on Tuesday in the Predators’ latest loss, a 2-1 overtime defeat to the Winnipeg Jets who peppered Saros with 41 shots and had numerous high-danger scoring chances that could have easily made this a much more lopsided affair.
Jets amassed 20 high-danger chances in all situations to the Predators managing 13. A mini miracle that Saros held the Jets to only two goals, and the death blow coming in overtime, of course.
Have both McDonagh and Niederreiter moved the needle enough to make the Predators any better than they were last season? The results on the ice say they haven’t.
Players that were expected to play major roles aren’t even in the lineup
Both Eeli Tolvanen and Philip Tomasino were expected to take on a bigger role for this Predators team as young and talented players. Tolvanen has since been claimed by the Seattle Kraken on waivers, and Tomasino has spent the entire season in the AHL for the Milwaukee Admirals, registering 11 points in 16 games.
At some point you have to seriously consider calling Tomasino back up and giving him the opportunity to provide a spark to the offense. What are we protecting him from? The guy put up a 30-plus point season in his rookie campaign. He’s not a first-year player getting his feet wet in the NHL. He played in 76 games in 2021-22.
When the Predators managed to avoid losing Filip Forsberg in free agency, it looked like everything was coming together for a very successful offseason. Instead, we’re seeing a roster that is duct taped together like a cheap coffee table built in the 1970’s.
Cole Smith and Mark Jankowski have become two regulars to the forward core who wasn’t really on anyone’s radar before the season started.
Smith has yet to tally a goal on 29 shots and playing in all 28 games. Jankowski serves an important role as a savvy veteran who plays smart, but again doesn’t pack much of an offensive punch.
The D-Core is Inexperienced and Thrown Together
Then there’s the defensive core. The Predators are relying on three defensemen no one expected to play vital minutes to hold it together until McDonagh, Alexandre Carrier, Jeremey Lauzon and Mark Borowiecki can return.
Jordan Gross, Roland McKeown and Kevin Gravel have been forced into the starting lineup. No disrespect to any of these players, but this isn’t what we had in mind back in September. Now unfortunately, Head Coach John Hynes doesn’t have any choice as McDonagh, Borowiecki, Carrier and Lauzon aren’t available.
To those three players’ credit, they’ve been playing valiantly over the past few games. It’s just a matter of asking yourself the honest question; “Would these players be in the starting lineup under normal circumstances on a legit playoff contender?”. Probably not.
The Gravel/McKeown pairing actually did their job at 5v5 play by allowing only a 0.379 Expected Goals Against, while the Josi/Gross pairing were up against the ropes allowing 1.779 Expected Goals Against, per MoneyPuck.
Again, the Predators have to figure out a way to tread water until they can get their full complement of defensemen back. Seeing the forward core provide goal support and actually connect on the power play every now and then would be a great remedy to this problem.
The Nashville Predators, who were 6th on power play last season, are currently 0-for-18 on the power play during their five-game losing streak. Yes, the pit of despair in this department.
It’s not all doom and gloom. Both Juuso Parssinen and Cody Glass are showing strides in their respective games. Glass got robbed multiple times by Connor Hellebuyck against the Jets on Tuesday, and Parssinen has shown he belongs up here for the duration of the season.
The Predators are teetering between remaining around that playoff bubble and completely falling out of this and needing a miracle run to climb back. They’re not at that critical point yet, but it’s getting close.
Can this aforementioned makeshift lineup that features several players that weren’t expected to get significant minutes stay afloat? That remains up for debate, but this clearly isn’t the Nashville Predators team we thought we were getting back in September.