What if Predators need more from second line in Game 7?
It’s remarkable that the Nashville Predators managed to push the Jets to a Game 7, and not just because of the wealth of talent in Winnipeg.
Instead, it’s a testament to how dangerous the top line (Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, and Viktor Arvidsson) can be and, while there have been some ups and downs, how much of a difference Pekka Rinne and that defense can make. Because, frankly, the Predators’ second line has been a letdown.
An effective second line really helped Nashville win its first Central Division title and Presidents’ Trophy in 2017-18.
[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]
On nights that the top line struggled, or the Predators simply needed to trade goals, the trio of Kevin Fiala - Kyle Turris - Craig Smith often soared. Sometimes they looked like another top line, particularly during Turris’ hot start after being traded from the Ottawa Senators.
Now, it’s true that there have been some moments of brilliance. They came through during one especially big moment when the Predators needed them, as Turris made a nice play to unleash Craig Smith, who fed Fiala for a big overtime goal earlier in the Jets series:
Those moments have been few and far between for this intriguing line, though.
So far during the postseason, Turris has been a bust, only managing three assists in 12 playoff contests. Much like Johansen, Turris tends to pass first, but his minimal numbers stand as maybe the most troubling of that trio.
Smith’s numbers are a bit reminiscent of Rick Nash, as the possession stats and shots are there (29 SOG through 12 games). This moment captures some of Smith’s struggles:
Fiala might represent the most extreme highs and lows for the second line.
On one hand, he scored that huge OT goal, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the speedy winger made some big plays in Game 7. Fiala seems to have a sense of the moment, as he also scored a big OT goal against Chicago during the 2017 run.
The bigger picture is mixed for the young forward, though. He’s been limited to three goals and one assist for four points during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and Fiala has even been a healthy scratch during this series.
When you consider these struggles, the Predators have to be pretty happy that they’re a win away from another trip to the third round. Forsberg’s ascent to stardom alongside that lethal top line stands as a big reason why, and Nashville’s seen players like Austin Watson and Colton Sissons step up (particularly during the first round).
[Soak in Forsberg and the rest of the first line’s dominant Game 6 performances]
It’s conceivable that Nashville could survive this huge challenge even if the second line flounders. It’s also worth acknowledging that the Predators are far from the only team that’s wanted more from supporting cast members during this postseason. You can file some of this under “easier said than done.”
Still, whether it’s in Game 7 against the Jets on Thursday, or against the Golden Knights if Nashville manages to advance, the Predators are going to want more from Fiala, Turris, and Smith sooner rather than later. So far, that group hasn’t really been able to deliver as hoped.