Before the blockbuster trade for Ryan Johansen Nashville rolled out the same defensive pairs every night. Weber-Josi, Ekholm-Ellis, and Jackman-Jones were locked in each time the lineup was announced. Since Jones was traded, Weber and Josi have been the only mainstay (when healthy) as a pair.
There’s very little to complain about these days in regards to the Predators. The franchise-record point streak speaks for itself. However, the playoffs are around the corner, and the defensive set up is very much in question. Jackman, surprisingly, has been healthy scratched the past four games.
That has lead to a heavily sheltered Bitetto-Granberg pairing, or a splitting up of Ekholm and Ellis. Neither of which is an ideal option. The defense isn’t playing bad by any means. But mistakes are being overshadowed by very good goaltending, and the second line scoring at will.
The blue line as a whole is not as well rounded since the departure of Jones to Columbus. No one expected it to be. That’s logical. The question the team must answer now is how they construct their defense going into the postseason.
Weber and Josi are the no-brainer top pairing. There’s no debate. Ekholm and Ellis are arguably a top pair on quite a few teams around the NHL. Playoff hockey usually shortens your bench, so them being separated for any significant amount of time seems unlikely. Can the team feel confident rolling out Bitetto and Granberg for even 10 minutes a night against likes of Chicago and Los Angeles? Debateable.
We haven’t seen the last of Jackman for the season. Nor should we. His experience will be valuable heading into the postseason. Even more, his best attributes are exactly what the team struggles with in their own zone. Failing to clear the crease against the opposition and being out of position to block passing and shooting lanes have hurt Nashville in recent contests. Jackman has the tools to help in each of those areas.
Leadership and experience can be overrated in many cases. However, the talent difference from Bitetto and Granberg to Jackman isn’t nearly enough to overshadow those intangibles. In fact, many believe Jackman is the better overall defenseman, anyway.
If we go on the basis Jackman will find his way back into the lineup for the postseason, who does he play with? The simplest answer is Bitetto because Granberg has yet to play beside the veteran. That’s an experiment that would at least be interesting to witness. Playing Granberg and Jackman together satisfies having a right and left hand defenseman on each pairing.
Some point out both Granberg and Jackman are stay at home defenders, and Bitetto provides a little more offensive upside. But is that necessary? For what the third pair will be asked to do, keeping the puck out of their own net is more than enough.
Perhaps Jackman and Granberg just don’t gel well. That happens. With 15 games left to go, there’s still time to maneuver players around, but the window is closing. If Nashville can regain continuity on the backend like we’ve seen from the forward group for the past month, the team will be firing on all cylinders for their run towards the Cup.