Welcome to the latest installment of While You Were Away. We’ll be tracking stories you may have missed and players who are trending up or down. We’ll fill you in on roster transactions, make a few predictions and generally keep you updated on all things NHL beyond your favorite team.
In their last three games, the Nashville Predators have seen their offense dry up. It’s been bone dry, in fact. We’re talking scorched Earth-type stuff here.
At the center of Nashville’s slump is forward Filip Forsberg. The 21-year old had an impressive rookie campaign last season with 26 goals and 63 points through 82 games. He earned serious Calder Trophy consideration before cooling off down the stretch (no goals from Feb. 26 through March 21). Coming into this season, he was expected to shoulder more of the scoring load for the Predators under coach Peter Laviolette’s offensive-minded approach.
But Forsberg has fallen victim to the dreaded sophomore slump: In 20 games he’s netted only two goals and, more importantly, he hasn’t found the back of the net since October 15. With just 11 points on the season and none in Nashville’s last four games, one of the more potent rookie scorers of 2014-15 has struggled mightily to find his groove.
The Predators flew out of the gate with an 8-1-2 record through October, but in the wake of Forsberg’s drought they’ve fallen to a Wild Card spot. Their goals per game average (2.55) has since become the worst in their division. I’ve said it before and it bears repeating: The Central is by far the toughest in the NHL right now, so Forsberg and the Preds must fix their scoring woes quickly if they want to stay in the thick of the playoff picture.
So what’s behind Forsberg’s goal-less drought? And how big an issue is this for the Predators moving forward?
Though only 21, Forsberg wasn’t exactly screaming “regression” while entering his second full NHL season. His PDO at the end of last season in all situations was 100.9 (according to War-on-Ice.com) and it was believed that he could maintain his offensive production, if not increase it, with more ice time this season.
This season’s slump is unlike anything he faced during the 2014-15 campaign. He’s now failed to light the lamp in 16 games. The longest such slump he endured last season was 12, though he also twice went seven without a tally. Sure, scorers often go through slumps and rack up goals in bunches. During that 12-game stretch last season, though, Forsberg was still driving play and getting chances: His 5-on-5 Corsi For % was a very healthy 58.2% and when he was on the ice Nashville generated 31 scoring chances per 60 minutes.
During his current 16-game drought? The Preds have generated even more chances: 33 per 60 minutes.
The opportunities are clearly there, but if Forsberg is still not having any puck luck, then he probably needs to tweak his approach.
According to Sporting Charts, Forsberg is relying much less on wrist shots. Last season 64% of his even-strength shots were wristers, compared to 42% this season. He’s utilizing a snap shot more often, which gives weight to the old saying that he’s “holding the stick too tight.”
But really, versatility in a sniper’s arsenal is not a bad thing. It’s an interesting stat to keep an eye on, but if he starts scoring again, his ratio of wrist shots to snap shots will likely even out.
There is, however, concern that Forsberg may have been rushed into a prime role with the Predators last season and that the team became too dependent on him too soon. Young players need to find consistency early in their careers as they learn the in’s and out’s of the league, especially those like Forsberg who are relied upon to produce offensively.
The Predators’ leading scorer, James Neal, is still a legitimate threat, but he’s hardly the type of player who can be a team’s sole option up front. He just barely cracks the league’s Top 50 players in even strength goals per 60 minutes, according to Hockey Analysis.
Neal does work very well with Forsberg, though. Forsberg has assisted on three of Neal’s nine goals and, along with Mike Fisher, this trio has been Nashville’s most used forward line. Last season, Forsberg and Neal played on the top line with Mike Ribeiro who assisted on 11 of Forsberg’s 26 goals, more than any other teammate.
Three games without a goal is cause for any coach to shake up his lines a bit and it seems high time that Forsberg and Ribeiro are reunited. Could that get the 21-year old scoring again? After 16 games without a goal and with the competition in Nashville’s division unlikely to ease up, it’s well worth a try.