It has now been a week and a half since John Hynes replaced Peter Laviolette as the head coach of the Nashville Predators. In that time, it has been a mixed bag of results. Hynes lost his debut mere hours after his hire became official, but it came at the hands of the Boston Bruins, one of the league’s best teams. The Predators then scored a convincing win over the Chicago Blackhawks and a hard fought two points against the Winnipeg Jets. Just when it looked like the coaching change could be paying immediate dividends, Nashville dropped their past two games to the Edmonton Oilers and Anaheim Ducks.
Hynes has apparently decided that major lineup changes may be in order to get the team to play up to their expectations and he plans to begin those experiments on Saturday night against the Buffalo Sabres. After already demoting Viktor Arvidsson to the third line, Hynes is set to roll out another major lineup change. Austin Watson goes from healthy scratch for four of the five games of Hynes’ young tenure to the first line, joining Ryan Johansen and Calle Jarnkrok. He replaces Craig Smith, who is set to fall all the way to the fourth line with Kyle Turris and Colin Blackwell, with Yakov Trenin getting the healthy scratch due to Watson’s addition.
Hynes’ thinking with this move may not be as focused on offense as it is on defense. In fact, while many Nashville forwards have been disappointing on an individual basis this season, the team is tied for eighth in the NHL in goals for per game. The same can’t be said for goals against, where the Predators are ranked 24th. Nashville simply has not been a difficult team to play against this season and the loss of Colton Sissons has only exasperated that fact. There has been an obvious lack of physical response and energy from the forward group many nights. As they struggle to get a more balanced, two-way effort out of their forwards, Hynes may be hoping that a refreshed Watson, who leads the team in hits by a wide margin despite sitting six games (and Sissons is in second) can add some punch to the top line. Meanwhile, Smith can bring some experience and scoring threat to the fourth line, where maybe he can even get Turris re-energized.
Perhaps more important than strategy is that this moves by Hynes sends a message that no one’s role is safe under the new coach. The effort has to improve and no one is irreplaceable if they don’t perform. If the team continues to lose, don’t be surprised to see GM David Poile send the same message to his roster by the trade deadline.