Preds lean on ‘consistent’ Johansen for deep run

Friday, April 19, 2019, Vol. 43, No. 16
By Chip Cirillo

Ryan Johansen scored 10 points in his last 13 regular-season games. That includes three game-winning goals and two winning goals in shootouts.

In a Predators season plagued by inconsistency, Ryan Johansen remained steady. Never injured, always reliable. Productive the whole way.

The first-line center set a career-high with 50 assists during the regular season. He’ll have a lot to say about how far Nashville goes in the playoffs.

“He’s been consistent, he’s been the one guy that has remained healthy on that line when we were faced with a lot of adversity with regard to the injuries,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette says. “He was a big part of the reason why we held things together as far as our forward group goes.”

Johansen anchors Nashville’s top line in between wingers Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg. Arvidsson, a right wing, set a franchise record with 34 goals despite missing 24 games with a broken thumb and a lower-body injury.

Forsberg, a left wing, was second on the team with 28 goals even though he missed 18 games with an upper-body injury.

“Down the stretch, (Joey) was incredible,” Laviolette continues. “He’s a guy that can be counted on in all situations whether it’s defensively or offensively. He serves a lot of roles on our team and he does them very well.”

Johansen had 10 points in his last 13 regular-season games, including three game-winning goals and two winning goals in shootouts.

He helped Nashville go 8-2-1 in its last 11 games as the Predators rallied past Winnipeg for the Central Division title.

“He’s a great player and he contributes a lot,” Arvidsson says. “His work ethic, his compete level and just being strong on the puck (make him exceptional).”

Johansen beat Minnesota twice in three days with shootout goals in early March. He skated in slowly on goalie Alex Stalock in a 3-2 win before using a similar move on Devan Dubnyk in a 5-4 victory.

Johansen also scored the winning goals in regulation in another win over Minnesota and victories over Buffalo and Vancouver down the stretch.

“I feel happy with where my game is at right now,” Johansen says. “I look to continue to take a step forward and be effective for our group.”

The Predators acquired the 6-foot-3, 218-pound Johansen in a trade with Columbus in January of 2016. Nashville gave up defenseman Seth Jones as the teams swapped a pair of former No. 4 overall picks.

Johansen gave the Predators the No.1 center it had coveted for many years.

“He’s a great player ever since he came to Nashville,” explains left wing Jamie Benn, who was third in scoring for Dallas with 27 goals during the regular season. “He’s been the man here, and he leads this team up front. You know, he’s a tough player to contain out there.

“Obviously, a big body, he skates well and he sees the ice so well and he’s definitely going to be a factor.”

Johansen scored 64 points this season, the second most in his career. He had 14 goals.

Nine of his goals were game winners, including one in November that beat Tampa Bay, which ended up with the NHL’s best record.

Nashville started the season strong, went up and down in the middle and finished on a hot streak. But Johansen was reliable the whole way.

“He’s a catalyst offensively and he’s been terrific,” Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis says. “Great passer. When he shoots the puck, I don’t think he knows it, but he’s a deadly player.”

Johansen and the JOFA Line were held scoreless during first-round games against Dallas until Forsberg scored during Monday night’s 3-2 win at Dallas to help the Preds take a 2-1 series advantage.

“Ryan is a great centerman,” Stars coach Jim Montgomery adds. “He’s a big, heavy player, but it’s the whole line that worries you. I mean, Ryan’s a great player, but Arvidsson and Forsberg are great players, too, right.

“That’s why they won the Central Division. They have elite depth and they have elite players.”

Johansen, 26, was named the All-Star Game MVP in 2015. He made his NHL debut as a 19-year-old with Columbus in 2011. In July of 2017, Johansen signed a $64 million, eight-year contract with the Predators.

He knows goals will be hard to come by against Dallas, which allowed the second-fewest goals (2.44 per game) in the league during the regular season.

“They have some good young talent, some skilled players,” Johansen says. “They’ve got a bit of everything.”

Johnsen was sidelined by a thigh injury in the 2017 Western Conference final when Nashville made it to the Stanley Cup Finals. He helped the Predators make it to the second round last year.

“He’s been great for us all year,” Predators captain Roman Josi says. “Since he came here, he’s been unbelievable.”