Full strength: Predators punish Kings

Fans of opposing teams might have been getting tired of the refrain: “Wait until the Nashville Predators get to full strength.”

It’s a response that could have come when Ryan Ellis was out, and then for January, when Filip Forsberg was not in the lineup.

Such comments felt more reasonable on Thursday, as the most-loaded-yet version of the Nashville Predators absolutely steamrolled the Los Angeles Kings 5-0 in Forsberg’s return to the lineup.

Nashville built a 3-0 lead through the first period, even with Ryan Johansen‘s would-be opening goal being disallowed. The Kings were unable to break through against Pekka Rinne, allowing the Predators to add an additional goal in each of the second and third periods for an impressive win.

Forsberg, Johansen & Co. treated a rowdy “Smashville” crowd to quite a performance. Forsberg scored a goal and an assist while Johansen piled up three helpers, rendering that disallowed goal a distant memory.

Rinne only needed to make 19 saves for his fifth shutout and 25th win of 2017-18. He’s quietly been one of the main reasons Nashville’s been able to weather injuries to the likes of Ellis and Forsberg, while backup Juuse Saros gives this team a formidable duo in net.

Such a victory puts the Predators in a strong position to win the Central Division. While their 67 standings points trail the Central-leading Jets’ 69, Nashville has played three fewer games than Winnipeg.

The Kings are in a rugged battle for positioning in the Western Conference’s bubble races, so it’s not as though there was little on the line for L.A. Maybe it was as simple as a fearsome team flexing its muscles in this one?

A lot of things can change in the two months remaining in the regular season, but as of today, the Predators look like they’ll be a force in the West once again.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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