Consistency has been a point of emphasis for the Nashville Predators throughout the season, and they’re starting to get just that. Not only does the team now have points in five of their last six games, and 11 of their last 15, but the forward trios have begun to find their own grooves.
Nashville’s lines have remained mostly unchanged for the past four games, allowing ample time for the forwards to continue to develop chemistry with one another, a correlation to the club’s recent success.
“It always helps having some stability in the lineup, but you have to find success too, so the fact that we’ve been getting points and winning hockey games allows you to come back in and let the lines continue to try to grow together and develop chemistry,” Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “Success usually drives that, so when you’re winning, you can afford that.”
Most noticeable during Thursday night’s 2-0 victory over the Boston Bruins was the line of Mike Ribeiro between Filip Forsberg and Craig Smith. The trio accounted for both of Nashville’s goals – one from Smith, the other from Forsberg – and seemed to make something happen every time they hopped over the boards.
“They were good last night; they were hard working and they moved the puck fast in the first period. They were dominating every time they got on the ice or into the offensive zone,” Laviolette said of the trio. “They were feeding off each other, reading off of each other, feeding off each other’s energy.
“They were hungry to get the loose pucks and second opportunities, and because of it, we generated a lot of scoring chances and they scored a couple of big goals for us. But they were good defensively as well. They didn’t let up a whole lot and that’s a big part of it too; we have to be responsible with what we do.”
Ribeiro, who played with Forsberg during a large span of time last season as well, has developed an on-ice rapport with the Swede. There are many factors that contribute to the development of chemistry between a line, and with Forsberg tallying six goals in his last six games, and Ribeiro factoring in on a number of chances, something is working.
“It’s just easier to read [Forsberg and Smith] and to know where they’re going to go with it and get comfortable,” Ribeiro said. “It’s all a matter of working. I think we’ve been doing that lately and playing well defensively and really having a good forecheck. We’ve been able to turn pucks over and start in the offensive zone, so it comes down to work and I think everyone’s doing that.”
Nashville’s top line of Ryan Johansen at center with Calle Jarnkrok and James Neal on the wings has also been together for a number of games. More specifically, Neal and Johansen have been slotted together since Johansen arrived in Music City on Jan. 6, sparking from the very beginning when it comes to reading each other on the ice.
“Chemistry comes when you get pucks in positions where you can’t see another player or another one of your linemates, but it’s kind of like you have eyes in the back of your head and are able to put pucks in spots where you know they’re going to be,” Neal said. “As you play with someone, you build that chemistry and you build that ability to know where they are and to know where to put pucks and want pucks; and just little reads in-zone or the neutral zone or coming out of your own end, it all goes into creating offense and being a top line and being a tough line to play against.”
Like Johansen, Neal also knows what it’s like to be traded mid-season and have to adjust to a new system and new linemates. In that sense, the older Neal has been able to work with Johansen in forming that bond in a number of different areas.
“Coming to a new team and coming to a new system, coming to new guys, your whole life is flipped upside down from a phone call,” Neal said. “That’s hard on guys, so all you can do is help a guy out and try to make him feel as comfortable as possible and I think this team is good at that. Everyone does a good job at that and [Johansen] will just continue to get better and he’s been great so far.”
It hasn’t just been the aforementioned lines making waves for the Preds; rather, each group seems to have a different impact every night, whether it be in the form of a key shot block or breaking up an odd-man rush on the back check. Combine that with different players scoring a big goal when needed, and the forward corps have been noticeable in the right ways.
“I think we’ve had different lines step up each night and that’s what you need to win and that’s what you need to push you into the playoffs and to win in the playoffs,” Neal said. “I like the way our team is moving right now. We’re getting better every night, I feel like, and we played some great hockey the last few games.
“I like the way everything’s going right now and we just need to continue with that consistency because that’s a hard thing to do. I think we’re going in the right direction right now.”