Through the first month-and-a-half of the 2018-19 season the Nashville Predators were rolling along as one of the best teams in the NHL, just as they have over the previous two years.
Then the injuries started to pile up. And we’re not talking just any injuries. We’re talking significant injuries to the best players on the team, and all around the exact same time.
Between Nov. 1 and Dec. 27 Viktor Arvidsson played in just one game. P.K. Subban played in just six games during that stretch (and none after Nov. 13), while Filip Forsberg has been sidelined since the end of November.
Subban and Arvidsson have already returned to the lineup, and Forsberg will return Monday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs after missing time due to a hand injury.
It should be obvious as to why this is a big deal for the Predators.
For one, Forsberg is their best offensive player and one of the best in the league. He has been so good, in fact, that even though he has not played in over a month he is still tied for the team lead in goals with 14 (Craig Smith also has 14, but has played in all 43 games for the Predators … Forsberg has played in 26).
But not only that, his return will also reunite all three of the Predators’ top players for the first time in nearly two months.
It will be just the second time since the end of October — and the first time since Nov. 10 — that the Predators will have all of Forsberg, Arvidsson, and Subban in the lineup for the same game.
It will only be the 14th time all season.
These three players were, literally, their top-three scorers a season ago. Take any team’s top-three scorers away for more than a quarter of the season and it’s going to have a massively negative impact on their results, and the Predators have absolutely experienced that over the past two months.
Not only have they rarely been in the lineup together, but the Predators have played 11 games without any of them (with a 5-5-1 record) and 19 games (with a 9-9-1) record without at least two of them.
In the previous 13 games they’ve played with all three, the Predators are 10-3-0 and have averaged more than 3.6 goals per game. That is more in line with what we expect to see from this team.
The slump that coincided with the injuries has put the Predators in a tight fight with the Winnipeg Jets for the top spot in the Central Division. They’ve already started to break out of that slump with the returns of Arvidsson and Subban, and now they are on the verge of getting back their best goal-scorer as they try to keep pace with the Jets. And it’s a perfect time to start getting healthy, too, as the team is in the middle of a six-game road trip and a stretch of games where they have to face some tough, tough teams (including Toronto, Columbus, Washington, Winnipeg, Colorado and Vegas all over the next eight games).