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Hornqvist’s absence presents challenge, opportunity

With the announcement coming yesterday that Patric Hornqvist will be missing 3-4 weeks with a sprained knee, the Nashville Predators are going to need contributions throughout their entire lineup in his absence. Hornqvist was tied for the team lead in points before his injury, and he’s always a threat for the Predators when he’s parking in front of the opposing goaltender.

Nashville is struggling to score goals so far this season and losing one of their top offensive weapons isn’t going to help. Hornqvist tied for the team lead in shots on goal with Shea Weber in the 2011-12 season with 230. His willingness to shoot the puck will be missed on a team that is currently last in the league in shots on goal per game.

Offense has been a major problem for the Predators through six games. They’ve scored just 10 goals, which is only good for 1.67 goals per game. That’s tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets for second to last place in the entire NHL. It’s hard to win games without scoring at least two goals per game, and it’s going to be harder to score with Hornqvist out of the lineup.

The burden on Nashville’s younger players like Colin Wilson and Craig Smith to produce offensively will be even higher now than it was coming into this season. The Predators are not the most offensively gifted team in the NHL by any stretch of the imagination, but they need the players who can produce offensively on a regular basis to do so. That simply hasn’t been happening so far.

Another area that will be vitally important for the Predators will be generating offense from the defensemen. They haven’t been doing a good job in that area so far. Kevin Klein (2a) and Ryan Ellis (1g, 1a) are the only Nashville defensemen that have registered a point through the first six games. The lack of offensive production from the defensemen is particularly odd from a team that boasts Shea Weber on the blueline. Weber and Roman Josi have combined for 28 shots in six games but haven’t been able to pick up a point yet.

Martin Erat is really the offensive catalyst for the Predators and has been the most consistent threat over the past few seasons. He leads the team in points right now with four, but he’s going to have to take his game to another level and guide the Predators out of their offensive funk. It may be time to separate Erat and Mike Fisher. David Legwand and Erat have historically played pretty well together, and it might be time for Barry Trotz and the coaching staff to mix up the rotation at center.

The biggest thing the Predators will miss in Hornqvist’s absence is his net presence. Hornqvist is one of the best in the world at getting in front of the net and wreaking havoc for opposing goaltenders. He blocks their vision, redirects pucks and is there to score on rebounds as well. Outside of Hornqvist, the Predators don’t have anybody that makes their living in front of the net. That doesn’t mean they don’t have players that have the potential to do so, however.

Wilson is an example of a player who can use his size and strength to wreak havoc in front of the net. Paul Gaustad and Brandon Yip have shown some ability to do that as well. Nobody is going to be able to do exactly what Hornqvist does for the Predators, but they can be effective by doing it by committee. That’s been the Predator Way since the beginning in 1998.

Nashville really dodged a bullet with Hornqvist only being out 3-4 weeks. It’s a significant amount of time, especially in the shortened season, but it’s better than most were expecting after seeing the injury Saturday night. It didn’t look good. Now, the Predators are going to have to get offensive contributions throughout their lineup. It can’t be the same line every night, or it won’t work out well for them. The third and fourth lines are going to have to chip in offensively when the first and second lines are having bad nights and vice versa.

It’ll be a challenge without Hornqvist, but it’s a challenge that the Predators are going to have to figure out how to deal with quickly. Nashville is 1-2-3 so far this season, and don’t have the luxury of continuing to fall behind early in the season. It’s gut check time for the Predators, especially offensively.

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