The Nashville Predators have turned a corner.
The turn-around for the 2015-2016 season began on the Predator’s Western-Canadian road-trip (Jan,21-Jan,27). After meandering the standings since early November, Nashville rattled off 4 straight wins on the road. Since January 20th, the Predators are 16-5-6. They also set a franchise record 14 game point streak.
But what actually changed?
Why are the Predators suddenly one of the hottest and most consistent teams in the NHL? What are they doing differently that is resulting in wins?
To answer these questions, one must go deeper than the eyeball test.
Below, are various statistics from war-on-ice.com. If you are into advanced stats and analytics… War-On-Ice is your Bible.
The two data sets compare the 46 games before the Predators embarked on their Canadian road trip, (otherwise know as the Dark Times), and the 27 games since that trip began in Winnipeg (on January 21st) .
To begin, we can see the Predators have drastically improved their offense.
A humbling 2.5 goals/game has increased 24% to an average of 3.1 goals/game. That’s good for 6
in the league since January 20
for those wondering.
If you are new to advanced stats, Corsi is the gateway drug. Simply put, Corsi tracks shots on goal, both for and against your team. Then, Corsi compares each teams shots to the total shots taken.
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If the Preds take 30 shots and the Blues have 25, Nashville will have 54.5% and St. Louis will have a 45.4% Corsi. An exact tie in shots would result in both teams receiving a 50% Corsi score.
In theory, Corsi tracks how a team, or player, is performing over a period of time. When you outshoot your opponent, you are generally out-playing them. That is not true for every game, but the law of averages says it will even out.
Curiously, as the Pred’s game has improved since Jan. 20th, their Corsi rating has dramatically fallen. It has fallen from 53.6% to 48.5%, meaning Nashville’s high-flying offense is getting outshot since the turnaround. However, Corsi, cannot tell the whole story, nor is it meant to.
Remember those 40+ shot games where it felt like every Predator’s shot was from the blue-line? It seemed like the Preds were getting pushed to the outside and settling for flipping a prayer toward the net. Shots on goal alone cannot determine how a game is tilted. Nashville would routinely outshoot teams but a pee-wee goalie in half-decent position could have stopped most of them.
At first, my hypothesis was that the Predators have been taking better shots recently. Perhaps waiting for a better option instead of shooting the puck at goalies chests once they get over the blue-line.
The Predators are probably finding their way into those hard areas and burying their chances instead of just piling on the shots. Makes sense right? Guess again…
HDSC = High Danger Scoring Chance
As we can see, my original hypothesis was false. Surprisingly, the Predators are the worst team in the league at generating “High Danger Scoring Chances” since January 20th. The Pre-Western-Canadian road-trip Predators were middle of the pack, 17th, at creating HDSC. In the mediocre first half of the season, Nashville was 11.2% more likely to generate a scoring chance.
So the “quality shots” hypothesis is out.
Then how are the Predators scoring so much? They’re the 6th most productive offense over the past 2 months and yet, they are the least likely team in the league to produce a high danger scoring chance. How is this possible?
Remember the shooting % in our second table?
The Nashville Predators have increased their shooting percentage from 8.0% to 10.8%. That 10.8% is the 2nd highest percentage in the league since Jan. 20.
The Predators are getting lucky with their offense. A drop in chances has coincided with more goals. That’s simply unsustainable.
Recently, the numbers show Nashville having tremendous offensive luck recently. That’s it. Fan or not, we must accept that General Manager, David Poile, has not assembled the 2nd best collection of snipers in the league.
Will they fall back to the Dark Times shooting rate of 8%? Probably not, but this is why the NHL plays 82 games. Streaks, both good and bad, average each-other out.
So luck explains the offense, but what about the defense?
Preventing “High Danger Scoring Chances” has been a strength of the Predators all season. Nashville is protecting the net. A slight uptick since Jan. 20 of 0.7 chances per game is still good for the most protective defense in the league, even without Seth Jones.
The Predators are allowing half a goal less per game even though they are giving up more high-quality chances.
So the quality of shots against has remained roughly the same, only an 8% change. In turn, all that’s left to explain the decrease in goals against is goaltending.
I won’t sugar coat it, Pekka Rinne was awful for the first half of the season. However, we have witnessed Pekka pull a 180 on a once lost season.
The Predators combined (Hutton & Rinne) SV% has gone from an embarrassing 89.4% to 3rd best 92.2% since Jan. 20.
Predators are getting the saves they need and scoring timely goals.
I believe the goals against can keep up. The defense has been steady all year and Rinne seems back to normal.
I guarantee, however, that scoring is going to decrease in the near future. The Predators current 10.8% shooting rate is unsustainable.
Since January 20th, Nashville is outshooting the season averages of Chicago, Dallas, and Washington by 1.8%, 0.8%, and 0.4% respectively. See what I mean when I say unsustainable?
The NHL’s median shooting percentage for the 2015-2016 campaign is 9.0%, according to war-on-ice. We can expect Nashville’s shooting percentage to fall back some as their luck returns to normal.
In turn, the Predators offense is going to cool off. While the defense may stay solid, expect to see a lot of 2-1 and 3-2 games down the stretch as the shooting percentage falls back to earth.