Butt trick: Forsberg unleashes physical ‘side’

Friday, April 13, 2018, Vol. 42, No. 15
By John Glennon

Nashville Predators fans cheer after Filip Forsberg after the third goal of his hat trick last week against the Columbus Blue Jackets. It was the only time this year that a Predator has scored three goals in a single game. The Preds won 4-2.

-- Ap Photo/Mark Zaleski

With three quick flicks of his wrist in the Predators’ regular-season finale, forward Filip Forsberg offered a glimpse of his immense skills, collecting the team’s first hat trick of the year and guiding Nashville to a franchise-record 53rd victory.

But as the Predators begin their quest for the Stanley Cup against Colorado, it’s the power aspect of Forsberg’s game that’s drawing more and more attention.

The 6-1, 205-pound Forsberg was never one to shy away from contact, but as the Swedish native has grown in both stature and confidence, he’s become increasingly more likely to initiate it – whether that means muscling his way to the front of the net or delivering one of his now-famous reverse body-checks.

The result is the rare combination of talent and toughness known as the power forward, a tag that’s been applied to Forsberg this season more than ever before.

“He’s shown his physicality over the years, but it’s become more of his game this year,” Predators goalie Pekka Rinne says. “He’s more consistent about it, starting off his shifts and getting physical.

“I think it’s helped his own game and his whole line’s game. He can knock guys off their balance and get the puck. I think we see that more this year than the years before.”

The `wow’ factor

Forsberg’s skill level is such that his power can be overlooked, even by opponents.

That’s understandable, considering Forsberg has registered at least 25 goals in each of his first four full seasons in the league. When Forsberg attempted a lacrosse-style goal in a recent game against San Jose, for instance – hoisting the puck onto his stick in mid-skate and winging a shot off the goalpost – it was just another reminder of the dazzling talents he has.

“You can’t even do that kind of stuff in a video game,” Predators defenseman Anthony Bitetto jokes. “There’s only a couple of players in the league that have that special ability. He’s obviously one of them. He’s one of those guys that has that `wow’ factor.”

Adds forward Scott Hartnell: “He tries stuff with the puck that I wouldn’t even think to do, or I’d probably tear my ACL if I tried it.”

But there were a couple of other moments toward the end of the regular season that illustrated Forsberg’s ability to push his way into high-production areas around opponents’ nets.

The first occurred in one of the Preds’ biggest games of the year in Tampa Bay, when Forsberg took control of the puck in his own end, out-skated a Lightning defender down the left side, then – using his powerful frame – wedged his way inside to score a goal.

The second happened just two nights later against Florida.

With less than a second left in regulation, it was Forsberg who shoved his way to the edge of the crease, knocking home a puck that appeared to tie the contest. That goal was controversially waved off due to a goaltending interference call against Viktor Arvidsson, but Forsberg had once more shown he could out-battle defenders in critical situations.

“I haven’t put a special emphasis on being physical,” the 23-year-old Forsberg acknowledges, “but maybe I’ve just gotten a little stronger. That could definitely play into it. I want to be a power forward, go hard to the net and, obviously, try to finish whatever I can.”

Bruising backside

The power element of Forsberg’s game isn’t limited to what he does in scoring situations.

His reverse body-check has become a Forsberg signature move, whether he’s utilizing it to protect possession along the boards or to separate his opponent from the puck – often times behind the opposition’s goal line.

Instead of plowing into a rival skater arms-and-chest first, Forsberg simply turns his broad back and delivers a punishing blow – often with his derriere.

“I’ve been trying to do that as much as I could,” Forsberg explains. “I wasn’t the fastest guy growing up, so I would just (do it to) try to protect the puck and be strong on the ice. I’m trying to get some separation and create that extra second to keep the puck.”

Forsberg actually incurred a three-game suspension in February after delivering a reverse check on the New York Rangers’ Jimmy Vesey, but that ruling was somewhat of a surprise given Forsberg’s clean use of the move in the past.

“It’s just part of a new way to separate the man from the puck for turnovers,” Predators general manager David Poile says. “A lot of those happen in the offensive zone, which presents us with a scoring opportunity. So, it’s just another dimension he has that a lot of other players don’t have in their repertoire.”

Game-changer

In past seasons – even during last year’s run to the Stanley Cup Final – the talents of Predators players were often overshadowed by opposition superstars like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews or Sidney Crosby.

But last year’s playoff success, combined with the Preds winning this season’s Presidents’ Trophy, will mean the eyes of the hockey world will be paying that much more attention to Nashville’s top guns.

What they will notice first about Forsberg is the soft hands and the deadly shot, two reasons he collected 30 points (11 goals, 19 assists) in the final 30 games of the regular season.

But don’t be fooled by that superior skill set. He packs quite a punch, as well.

“He’s a game-changer,” Poile points out. “One thing I always talk about is that hockey is so great as a team game, so I truly believe one person can’t really make all the difference for you.

“But every once in a while, these stars – and Filip is one of those guys – can change a game on one shift because what they can do skill-wise. Now he’s also bringing that physicality and brute strength and force, all in order to be a tough guy to stop.”

Reach John Glennon at glennonsports@gmail.com and follow him @glennonsports on Twitter.