Nashville Predators: Breaking Down the Defense, Part 1

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The Nashville Predators defense defines the team.

Part one of this article will focus on the Nashville Predators defensemen as individuals. Part 2 highlights the defense as separate units, and features a breakdown of each pairing. The top pair has been fantastic all season.

Here is the Link to Part 2 of this series.

Roman Josi has recently broken Shea Weber’s point record and has a shot at being the only Predators defenseman to reach 60 points in a season.

Defensemen Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis could be a first pairing for half of the league’s teams.

Meanwhile, Barret Jackman has been serviceable. Not great but he fills a bottom 6 role.

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Anthony Bitetto and Petter Granberg have been battling for the last spot since the Seth Jones trade. It seemed like Bitetto had gained an edge until he went down with an apparent lower-body injury.

As the regular season draws to a close, I want to break down the Nashville Predators defensemen one-by-one and see how they have become one of the highest scoring defense-core all season. Stats from & War-on-ice

All High Danger stats are from 5v5 even-strength play. PP and PK minutes skew the numbers unfairly.
HDSCF=High Danger Scoring Chances For
HDCA=High Danger Scoring Chances Against
HDSCP60=High Danger Scoring Chances For and Against per 60 minutes

Nashville Predators Roman Josi
Nashville Predators defenseman Roman Josi (59) Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

Roman Josi

GP   G    A    PTS   +/-    AvgTOI
78     13  44    57     -3       25:28

226             201        +25           17.74

Roman Josi has simply been outstanding this season. Plenty of Predator fans are hoping he will get a Norris trophy nod.

Josi broke Weber’s 56-point record last Saturday against the Blue Jackets. His offensive output has been great. But Josi’s scoring chances against, is the highest among the among all Predators’ defensemen. His 226 HDSCF is 1 more than Weber for 3rd on the Pred’s blue-line.

If those numbers don’t inspire confidence. I ask you to look at the HDSCP60, which measures all high-danger chances while on the ice whether or not they are for, or against you.

We can use this metric to measure how aggressive a player is. If he is aggressive, he will, in theory, generate more chances, but that same player is also risking more defensively the other way. So the higher the HDSCP60, the more offense is occurring on the ice, regardless of the team.

Josi has the second least HDSCP60 on the team with 17.74 chances per 60 minutes, behind only Shea Weber. This means he is rather conservative even though we see him rushing up the ice nearly every shift. This is why we look at advanced stats, numbers can’t lie.

Shea Weber

GP   G    A    PTS   +/-      AvgTOI
75    18   30   48      -6          25:21

225          173           +52          17.39

Shea Weber is having another excellent season. He is only 2 goals away from being Nashville’s 4th, 20 goal scorer this year. Josi and Weber have been attached at the hip for the past 2+ seasons and their ice-time this year is nearly identical. Weber’s average 25:21 minutes a night is only 7 seconds behind Josi.

His HDSCF of 225, is 3rd among Pred’s D. Meanwhile he has only given up 173 High Danger Scoring Chances Against (HDSCA), the lowest among Nashville’s top 4 even though he plays 5 minutes more than Ellis and Ekholm per night. As we might expect, Weber has the lowest High Danger for & against per 60 (HDSCP60) at even-strength (17.39). Weber has been one of the NHL’s toughest defensemen for years. When was the last time we saw a forward beat him 1-on-1?

Nashville Predators Ryan Ellis
Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis (4) Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

Ryan Ellis:

GP   G    A    PTS   +/-      AvgTOI
76     9    22     31     15           20:49

266        181            +85        21.39

Do yourself a favor and google image search Yukon Cornelius, Ryan Ellis is making an excellent impersonation…

Ellis’ 31 points this season is a career high. We often forget he is only 25 years old and probably has a decade more of NHL hockey in him.

He has always been considered a strong offensive D-man, often quarterbacking the Power-Play.

Unsurprisingly, Ellis’ HDSCP60 is highest among Pred’s D-men.

His defensive game has taken a step forward this season. 181 chances against is still second highest on the team, but is essentially tied with Ekholm, who has 177 chances against.

What’s really impressive about Ellis’ numbers is that he’s a plus 85 in High Danger chances. That’s good for 4th in the entire NHL. The High-Danger chance stats show that Ryan Ellis is one of the most productive defensemen in the entire league.

Mattias Ekholm

GP   G    A    PTS   +/-      AvgTOI
78    8    26    34     13          20:08

257          177            +80         20.21

Ekholm is on pace to double his previous high in points (18). He has the second lowest HD chances against among the top 4.

Just behind Ellis, Ekholm has generated 257 HD scoring chances while on the ice at 5v5.

Ekholm’s HDSCP60 is the 2nd highest for all Nashville Predators D. This is, even more, evidence that despite the lower point totals, Ellis and Ekholm are the more aggressive pair.

His incredible +80 scoring chances mark is 6th among all NHL defensemen.

Yes, Nashville’s second pair has the 4th and 6th best plus/minus in that metric.
Part-2 of this article will demonstrate how that’s possible.

Barret Jackman 

GP   G    A      PTS    +/-     AvgTOI
70    1      4        5         1          13:43

HDSCF     HDSCA       HD+/-      HDSCP60
138               129              +9                 18.06

Barret Jackman has come as advertised. He was never expected to re-invent the wheel but he has been a calming presence on the blue-line.

He has never been an offensive defenseman, so don’t read too much into his point totals. His job right now is to sit in front of the net and potentially cover up any mistakes made by the youngsters Granberg and Bitetto.

Jackman is almost 100 scoring chances behind the top four, but, most of that is due to ice-time.
What we need to look at is the average per 60 which stands at a respectable 18.06. That mark is sandwiched between the Josi/Weber and Ekholm/Ellis pairs.

The 6th defensemen in the line-up has been a rotation between Petter Granberg (23 games) and Anthony Bitetto (26 games).  The 2 player’s games make up such a small sample size that their numbers are almost irrelevant.

Petter Granberg
Gms   G      A   PTS    +/-
23       0       2      2         1

HD+/-       HDSCP60
-8                18.53

Anthony Bitetto
Gms   G      A   PTS    +/-
26       1       5      6         1

HD+/-       HDSCP60
-4                 18.96

Granberg and Bitetto have been OK. We were spoiled with Seth Jones. You cannot expect too much from 6th and 7th defensemen.

Next: Breaking Down the Preds Defense, Part 2

All-in-all, each of the Predator’s defensemen contributes a unique skill-set that makes Nashville’s blueline one of the best in the NHL. Part 1 of this article focused on the defenseman as individuals, part 2 will focus on the defensive pairs as collective units, including what factors influence their season-long statistics.