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Preds Youthful Fourth Line a Difference Maker on Offense

by Brooks Bratten / Nashville Predators

Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette expressed prior to Tuesday’s contest against the Ottawa Senators that he had some confidence in newly-recalled forward Colton Sissons’ ability to jump into the lineup and perform if necessary.

The hunch from Nashville’s bench boss came to fruition and then some after Sissons potted a goal and was a plus-4 while centering the Preds fourth line in a 7-5 victory over the Senators. In fact, every member of the fourth line, Sissons, Gabriel Bourque and Austin Watson, all tallied once – Bourque added an assist, Watson earned two helpers – while posting a plus-4 rating on the night.

Sissons, summoned from the Predators AHL affiliate Milwaukee Admirals on Tuesday morning, filled in for Paul Gaustad to make up a trio whose primary job is to shut down the opposition’s top players. However, they found themselves in the offensive zone on numerous occasions against Ottawa and capitalized on their chances, just part of a seven-goal outburst.

“It feels great to contribute offensively,” Watson said. “We’re at our best if we can be in their end and cycling the puck and playing some hard minutes down there. We were fortunate to put a few in the net last game, but that’s what we want to do as much as we can.”

Selected by Nashville 50th overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Sissons was appearing in his first NHL game since April of 2014 on Tuesday, after spending the entire 2014-15 season in Milwaukee. Laviolette said it was only a matter of time before Sissons got another chance with the Preds, and the 22-year-old didn’t disappoint.

“My confidence in him grew as the game grew,” Laviolette said of Sissons. “I know [Admirals Head Coach] Dean [Evason] speaks real highly of him from having him a few years in the minors now. With the reliability and the trust that Dean has with him down there, it’s easy to see why.”

Players like Sissons and Watson believe their minor-league success transitioning seamlessly to the NHL level is a nod to the instruction and preparation they receive in Milwaukee. When the phone call from Nashville comes, they’re more than ready.

“We try to do as good of a job as we can of just staying prepared down there and getting better every day and you see it when a guy like Colton or Miikka Salomaki comes up after spending a few games there,” Watson said. “To just step right in and play the right way and contribute, it’s awesome to see. It’s a testament to the staff down there and the guys themselves for not getting down and just staying ready all the time. When you get the chance, make the most of it.”

Bourque, at the age of 25, is usually the youngest on the line when Gaustad and Eric Nystrom are healthy. Playing the role of the wily veteran with Sissons and 23-year-old Watson, Bourque tallied his first goal of the year and had a laugh about his newfound role in the process.

“We see how that went, I was plus-4; I said to the guys before the game I was the youngest and two days later I’m the oldest,” Bourque smiled. “It was pretty cool, and they did a good job. We were all excited to play together, and it was fun.”

While they may not be together for long, once players start returning to the lineup, it’s a solid alternative for the time being.

“A couple of their goals came off of just being fast and physical and turning pucks over, going to the hard areas and fighting for space out there,” Laviolette said. “For a line that was just put together, they seem to have a little bit of chemistry working with each other, and they had a big night for us.”


Toronto on Deck:

Fresh off of their win over the Dallas Stars on Tuesday, the Toronto Maple Leafs are in Nashville to face the Preds on Thursday. Toronto’s 3-8-4 record may not be pretty, but the Preds don’t plan to take anything lightly with the Leafs in town.

“They beat Dallas a couple times; that’s pretty good,” Laviolette said. “We’ll make sure that we respect our opponent and their ability to win hockey games, because they can.”


Lineup Notes and Injury News:

Forwards Paul Gaustad and Craig Smith were absent from practice on Wednesday. Gaustad is day-to-day with a lower-body injury, while Smith was given a maintenance day. Forward Eric Nystrom and goaltender Carter Hutton, both on Injured Reserve, did not skate with the full group, but along with Gaustad, the trio skated on their own prior to practice.

Wednesday’s forward lines looked like this:

Forwards
Filip Forsberg Mike Fisher James Neal
Colin Wilson Mike Ribeiro Ryan Ellis
Miikka Salomaki Calle Jarnkrok Cody Hodgson
Gabriel Bourque Colton Sissons Austin Watson

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