Nashville Predators:Breaking Down the Defense, Part 2

Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber (6) celebrates with defenseman Roman Josi (59) . Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber (6) celebrates with defenseman Roman Josi (59) . Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports /

The Nashville Predators feature two of the best pairs in the league.

This is the second article of my two-parter Breaking Down The Predators Defense. I focused on the Nashville Predators defensemen as individuals in part 1. If you haven’t read part 1, I suggest you click here . Part 2 will analyze the Nashville Predators defense as pairs.

Shea Weber and Roman Josi are considered one of the best pairings in the NHL. As of April 1st, Weber and Josi have a combined 105 points. Yet, they are also a combined -9.

Meanwhile, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm have 65 total points and are a combined +28.
Stats courtesy of

Weber and Josi are supposedly the better pair. What explains the 37 even-strength goal difference?  The eye-test tends to show that Weber and Josi receive tougher competition. But is that really true?

Measuring the quality of competition is an imperfect science. However, much of the hockey world uses another form of Corsi to measure competition strength.

For newcomers, Corsi can be defined as the shot differential while a player was on the ice. This includes shots directed toward the net, whether or not they hit it. An exact 50% Corsi means that a player is on the ice for the same amount of shots for and against his team.

To begin, the quality of competition against the Nashville Predators defensemen is measured by the season-long Corsi% of the players that each defenseman has been on the ice against. Otherwise known as CorC%
Stats gathered from even-strength from

Josi: 50.59%
Weber: 50.55%
Ekholm: 50.18%
Ellis: 50.03%
Bitetto: 49.95%

As we see from the above stats, 1st pair Josi and Weber take the majority of the tougher competition.

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If we rank the Corsi% of competition among all NHL defensemen who have played at least 25 games, Roman Josi has the 11th highest CorC% in the NHL and Shea Weber owns the 15th.

Weber and Josi, as a pair, face the toughest competition in the entire league night in and night out.

No other playoff bound team has a defensive pair in the top 20 of CorC%.

Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm’s quality of competition metrics are only half a percentage point behind. How far back can they really be?

Ekholm’s CorC% is ranked 81st among NHL D-men while Ellis is bringing up the rear at 120th. The Nashville Predators second pair has received praise, like from this SI article, after the Seth Jones trade. However, they get relatively easy competition compared to Weber and Josi.

The second pair is certainly not sheltered, but the fact that 120 defensemen face tougher competition than Ryan Ellis over the season can’t be overlooked.

If  we use simple math to rank the NHL’s defensemen, 6 D-men per 30 teams, claims that there are about 180 permanent defensemen in the NHL. Ekholm’s 81st CorC% is barely below the median while Ryan Ellis’ 121st CorC% shows that only 25% of permanent NHL defensemen have easier minutes.

The bottom 3 Nashville Predators defensemen are about where you’d expect. Jackman, Bitetto, and Granberg are usually sheltered against 3rd or 4th line competition. They have performed admirably in that sense but Nashville Predators fans cannot expect too much from them. A night without a glaring mistake should be considered a success.

More Corsi! Below are the percentages of Corsi from war-on-ice for each of the Nashville Predators pairings.

1st pair- Weber & Josi: 50.81
2nd pair-Ellis & Ekholm: 54.49
3rd pair-Jackman & Bitetto: 50.72
If these numbers seem high, keep in mind the Nashville Predators team Corsi% is 52.7 -3rd in the NHL.

The above are the usual pairs. But what happens when Head-Coach Peter Laviolette switches Granberg for Bitetto? Typically Ellis and Ekholm are broken-up. This is how the numbers shake out when that happens.

2nd pair B Ellis & Jackman:      56.86
3rd pair B Ekholm& Granberg:50.39

Techinacally better, but that adds minutes to Jackman and Granberg. So over the course of a game, the Corsi is actually lower when.

Weber and Josi’s average Corsi of 50.81 is a little low. But as I have mentioned, they receive stiff competition.
Ellis and Ekholm are fantastic at generating more shots than they give up. The 2nd pair is dominating against easier competition.
The usual 3rd pairing, Jackman, and Bitetto, is simply brought down by the rookie Bitetto. The only reason the  pairing is above 50% Corsi is due to Jackman’s experience.

Barret Jackman has been playing almost exclusively with Granberg or Bitetto since Ryan Johansen was brought in. Incredibly, Jackman’s Corsi has remained roughly the same since he was paired with Seth Jones.

Prior to the Seth Jones trade, Barret Jackman had about a 58% Corsi. Even after the trade, Jackman still holds the top Corsi on the Nashville Predators D-corps. Since being paired with Bitetto/Granberg, Jackman’s Corsi is 56.02.

Recently, the coaching staff has wisely steered away from Granberg/Ekholm paring and reunited Ellis and Ekholm. It seems they would rather have two terrific pairs and shelter the 3rd pairing in Jackman and Bitetto

Granberg and Bitetto’s individual numbers are atrocious. Barret Jackman has his hands full covering up the mistakes of the rookie defensemen.

Bitetto:      45.42
Granberg: 46.98

This is an area where the Nashville Predators can look for an upgrade in the off-season unless there’s a serious turn-around.

The Nashville Predators defensive pairs will continue to be tinkered with until healthy bodies come back. As of April 2nd, Ellis and Bitetto are day-to-day with injuries. There is zero incentive to rush Ellis back to the line-up. The Nashville Predators are almost certainly locked into a wild-card spot.

The top pair of Josi and Weber are the best tandem in the NHL. According to, Josi and Weber are the most productive offensive pair in the league with 105 pts. Josi’s 57 points are 4th among all defensemen and Shea Weber’s 48 points are good for 12th.

The top offensive, defense pair simultaneously plays the toughest competition in the entire league. Predators fans need to cherish what we are watching. Weber and Josi are simply dominant.

The 2nd pairing of Ellis and Ekholm is probably the best 2nd pair in the NHL. Ryan Ellis is 14th in Corsi% among all defensemen and partner Mattias Ekholm is 21st. They have the 5th best Corsi in the NHL for all defense pairs. Stats from war-on-ice.

Again, their incredible Corsi means they generate many more shot attempts than they give up. Combined, they have been on the ice for 2,337 attempted shots at the opposing goalie while only giving up 1,959. That gives the Nashville Predators 2nd pair a +378 shot attempts while on the ice together. The only caveat to these numbers is that they do not play the same kind of competition as other top pairs. However, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm are clearly making the most of their opportunity.

The 3rd pairing, like most teams, is in constant flux. Barret Jackman is expected to play conservatively in order to protect either Anthony Bitetto or Petter Granberg. A 3rd pairing is typically used against easier competition, the Nashville Predators are no exception. The 3rd pairing’s job is to give the other pairings a breather. Peter Laviolette will continue to match Jackman and Bitteto/Granberg against 3rd or 4th lines.

There is no doubt in my mind that the 2015/2016 Nashville Predators have the best top-4 defensemen in team history. Josi and Weber are the most intimidating pair in the NHL on both ends of the ice. Ellis and Ekholm are dominating at puck possession. Moreover, their combined plus/minus of +28 is astounding.

Next: Breaking Down the Defense Part 1

Defense is the backbone of the Nashville Predators. The entirety of the top-4 is signed through 2019 for a combined AAV of 18million, numbers from Hockeybuzz cap central. The strength on the back-end is going to remain for the foreseeable future. The top 2 pairs will look familiar for a long time and their chemistry will only grow. With the addition of Ryan Johansen to help the offense, the future of the Nashville Predators looks bright.