The Predators came into this season perhaps the most watched team in the West, if not the whole league. For the first time, it really appeared they could be one of the last four, or two, or even last team standing. They had a deep forward corps, though perhaps lacking star power. They had one of the deepest blue lines around, made only better by swapping out Shea Weber for He Who Should Be President Of The World. There were certainly questions about the goaltending, as Pekka Rinne has fallen off elite status. If it all went balls-up, that’s where it was most likely the arrows of blame (a great My Bloody Valentine album) would be pointed.
It hasn’t worked out that way, and it hasn’t worked out the way the Predators and their fans would have hoped either.
Rinne has been fine, though not spectacular. A .916 SV% overall is the very definition of average, if not a tick below, but shouldn’t see the walls caving in. A .923 at evens again is just about average, but considering where the Predators’ possession numbers it should see them better than where they are, only ahead of Colorado in the division and six points behind West East St. Louis for the final automatic playoff spot. They trail the Kings by two for the last wild card spot, having to leap the Jets and Stars to get there.
It has become a goalie league, so Rinne should take some blame. But the other fear about the Preds, that they lack any genuine top line talent, might be more to blame.
Only James Neal has more than 10 goals for the Predators, and gone are the times when he can create his own shot. Viktor Arvidsson is a fine little player, but when he’s second on your team in goals you have a problem. Compare that to the Hawks who have four, the Wild who have two and two more on the cusp (and they’re getting far better goaltending), the Blues with four, the Sharks with three and you begin to see the problem here. Even though overall, the Preds are middle of the pack in goal-scoring, if you’re middle of the pack in goaltending, you’re probably going to remain middle of the pack.
And that’s where things focus on Ryan Johansen. He leads the Predators in points, which was the idea when they gave up Seth Jones for him last season. But he’s only got 24 points in 34 games, and only seven goals. Of all the other contenders, only the Wild don’t have a point-per-game player, and again they’re getting the goaltending and playing the defense that make up for that.
That’s being a tad hard on Johansen, who is having by far his best possession-relative season of his career. He’s nearly +5% above his teammates, and he’s never come close to that before. Johansen is shooting 5.5% at even-strength, which is three percent lower than what he managed last season and about six percent lower than his two seasons of plus-play in Ohio.
Johansen is never going to score 40 goals or anything, but he does have a season of 33 and he might want to look at where he’s shooting from. Last year his average distance of shot was 25 feet. This year it’s 29. He’s not getting to the net as often. Certainly his play has allowed Neal and Arvidsson to score, but the Preds are where they are.
They also haven’t been helped by Filip Forsberg basically becoming the personification of the NBA JAM announcer’s “CAN’T BUY A BUCKET!!” The Preds are going to need more from both.
They’re all in on this season, and another winger has to be a priority you would think because if Viktor Arvidsson can’t be a top line player for any team that has serious aspirations. Maybe then they can unlock the point-per-game player they had better hope Johansson is. Making the playoffs in the West could see him having to go through any combination of Toews, Thornton, McDavid, Kopitar, Stastny (stretch, yes), and Granlund (he’s really good, seriously). Johansen got his lunch handed to him by Thornton last year in the second round. Getting one over him would be the difference between the brakes being applied where they always are for the Preds, or finally punching through.