There’s been a lot of talk recently about the 5-game losing streak the Predators have been on since returning to North America. At their first practice since their loss to Philadelphia, the team put on their “work boots” according to Ryan Johansen and focused on getting better. One of the big issues that has been consistent since the start of the season, defense, will see a change in the next game. John Hynes has announced plans to change the defensive pairings:
#Preds are gonna be switching up the D-pairs this week.— Robby Stanley (@RStanleyNHL) October 25, 2022
Part of the reason for that change is the injury to Mark Borowiecki, but a lot of it probably has to do with moving Mattias Ekholm back to the left side. Despite practicing playing on the right side all summer long, the Ekholm/McDonagh pairing has looked rough and out of place quite often to start the season. Shifting Ekholm back to the left does a few things:
First, Ekholm said that he’d played on the right before and the transition wouldn’t be that difficult. However, Ekholm’s experience on the right is rather limited compared to his time on the left. Hynes putting him back where he’s played the majority of his career not only puts him back in his comfort zone, it allows for another change as well.
The other major impact of moving Ekholm back to the left is that McDonagh shifts to a different pairing. That leaves John Hynes with three pairings made up of a veteran on the left with a younger player on the right. Aside from everyone playing their normal side, this also benefits the team in another way.
Roman Josi taking the elevator to the very top floor of an extremely shaky building. pic.twitter.com/inaYkihqYH— Alex Daugherty (@AlexDaugherty1) October 25, 2022
Roman Josi’s ice time has been steadily climbing since the start of the season. In short, when things go south, Roman Josi has to step up. Of course, he IS the captain of the team, so it makes sense, but approaching 30 minutes a night is not a long-term solution to the team’s defensive issues. This change allows for more even icetime distribution. With McDonagh on the third pairing, the skill level jumps up dramatically. Even when paired with Jeremy Lauzon, I would expect to see this pairing on the ice for more than 12 minutes per night. If that reduces Josi’s workload by a few minutes each night, it’s a much better situation moving forward.
With a reduced workload on Roman Josi, a more even distribution of ice time across the d-corps, and a return to normal positions, John Hynes is setting the Predators up for a much more successful defensive situation moving forward.
Of course, as much as this change will help the Predators, there’s another situation on the roster that’s going to need a solution, and soon.
The 2nd Line
There have been questions about who would play across from Nino Niederreiter on the Johansen centered line prior to the preseason. The early consensus was that Philip Tomasino would complete the trio, providing skill, speed, and firepower to a line that needed to produce more offense after last season. However, in a move that surprised many, Philip Tomasino was sent to Milwaukee to start the season in the AHL. What happened to the 2nd line over the course of the first 7 games of the season was essentially a roller coaster ride that hasn’t yielded anything but pain for the bottom-9 forwards.
Kiefer Sherwood was the lucky recipient of the spot for the first game against San Jose, he even scored the first goal of the NHL season and had an assist on the night as well. He got the spot once again in the second game of the season, but an in-game switch happened as Eeli Tolvanen showed some chemistry with the line at the expiration of a penalty.
Eeli Tolvanen remained with the line through the 6th game. However, since the second game, he’s only managed to scrape together one assist, despite plenty of opportunity. The issue here doesn’t reflect solely on Tolvanen; for that stretch, the rest of the team didn’t look great. However, four and a half games was enough for Hynes to make a move.
For the seventh game of the season, Yakov Trenin moved from the 3rd line to play on the second. Unfortunately, we can all remember how that game turned out. Trenin and his linemates were unable to create any offense. Of course, the rest of the team also had a hard time creating offense, despite playing a solid game.
However, all of this movement creates chaos elsewhere. Moving Trenin to the second line meant moving Cole Smith to the third, and that left the Predators with a fourth line made up of Eeli Tolvanen, Cody Glass, and Michael McCarron. Cole Smith’s style of play works well with the 3rd line’s identity, but his skill isn’t on par with that of Trenin. At the same time, Tolvanen and Glass on the 4th line sounds good until McCarron’s name gets added to the list. No matter what John Hynes does with his forward group, it seems like the team continues to be one skilled forward short of what it needs.
The first line will right itself. The third line, with Trenin back, will get back to it’s old ways soon. A fourth line of Tolvanen, Glass, and Sherwood has a lot of offensive upside and speed while still being defensively responsible. The only question that remains is one we’ve been asking for awhile–Who will fill the role on the second line?
Unfortunately, until someone can distinguish themselves or Hynes recalls someone from Milwaukee (Tomasino, Afanasyev, Parsinnen) that revolving door looks likely to keep revolving.
–featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports–