Nashville Predators: Victory After Defensive War in Philly

(Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)
(Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images) /

Only a single goal was scored in Philadelphia last night. Just seven games into the season, the Nashville Predators have completed a sweep of the Flyers.

In their previous contest this season, the Nashville Predators and Philadelphia Flyers combined for eleven goals. The game was out of hand defensively, and many were expecting another high scoring night in the two teams’ second matchup.

In reality, it was anything but.

The Flyers came out hot, controlling puck possession until about midway through the first period. From then on, shot production shifted gradually to the Predators’ favor, especially in even-strength situations.

Defensive grind

If the Nashville Predators want to be successful this season, their defense will need to step up in away games. Last night was no exception, and the visiting blue liners certainly rose to the challenge. The first pairing, containing Mattias Ekholm and Roman Josi, actually had the lowest possession numbers for Nashville defensemen. That said, they were nearly always matched against the Flyers’ first forward line. Maintaining a shutout against Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, and Jakub Voracek forgives the lopsided possession, if you ask me.

The second defensive pairing for the Predators was P.K. Subban and Alexei Emelin. In even-strength situations, they were excellent. They did allow a sizable handful of shots during penalty kills, but, again, when the puck stays out of the net, it’s hard to criticize. The final pairing was Matt Irwin and Anthony Bitetto. While I’ve given each a hard time this season, they’ve yet to allow a single goal as a tandem.

Suppressing opposition

In terms of puck possession, here’s a breakdown of each performance by Predators’ defensemen in all situations:

PlayerTime on IceFFFAFenwick %
Mattias Ekholm26:09202050.00
Roman Josi25:10231954.76
P.K. Subban23:40101835.71
Alexei Emelin20:2591833.33
Anthony Bitetto11:496275.00
Matt Irwin11:196460.00

Considering an average Fenwick would be around 50%, it’s definitely not a bad look for two-thirds of Predators defensemen last night.

For comparison, it’s interesting to look at the possession numbers of Flyers defensemen. Their blue line pairings were as follows: Gostisbehere & Hagg, MacDonald & Provorov, and Gudas & Sanheim. Their situation is unique, however, in that Shayne Gostisbehere plays far more minutes than any other Flyers player.

Here’s how they looked in terms of puck possession in all situations:

PlayerTime on IceFFFAFenwick %
Robert Hagg17:0461528.57
A. MacDonald16:25141058.33
Ivan Provorov19:34151255.56
Travis Sanheim19:27131154.17
Radko Gudas16:4991145.00

There’s no immediately-obvious discrepancy between the two teams’ defenses in terms of puck possession, but that’s hardly surprising. Like I said earlier, it was truly a defensive war. Both blue lines stood out tonight and kept scoring down to a single goal in sixty minutes.

Strong perimeter

Another descriptive metric to consider is high-danger scoring chances (HDSC). While the term itself seems vague, it’s actually a very objective statistic. Shots produced in the inner slot are considered “high danger,” while those in areas further from the net are omitted. Sportsnet’s Andrew Berkshire provides this handy graphic, using expected save percentage, to explain:

Fenwick is good at explaining how the flow of the game was affected by individual players. That is, which teams were able to produce shots while each player was on the ice. However, the term “shot” allows a lot of variation. Simple chip-ins to the goaltender to earn a faceoff count every bit as much as a juicy rebound from the crease.

To really determine how effective defensemen were at shutting down chances, it’s useful to analyze the proportion of high-danger scoring chances produced. In other words, how well the player secured his perimeter from attacks. Again, it’s an easy calculation. The ratio of high danger scoring chances for (HDSCf) and those against (HDSCa) produces the desired proportion. Here’s how the Predators’ defensemen did last night in all situations:

Mattias Ekholm030.00
Roman Josi020.00
P.K. Subban1420.00
Alexei Emelin1517.00
Anthony Bitetto10100.00
Matt Irwin10100.00

Believe it or not, the Nashville Predators as a whole produced only two high-danger scoring chances last night. Meanwhile, the Flyers produced seven. Numbers like that suggest that Pekka Rinne more than earned his paycheck with his shutout.

Again, for comparison, here are the Flyers’ defensive numbers:

Robert Hagg020.00
A. MacDonald40100.00
Ivan Provorov40100.00
Travis Sanheim10100.00
Radko Gudas10100.00

These numbers tell me that the Flyers did a much better job at defending the zone than the Predators. Aside from a Colton Sissons breakaway with Provorov and MacDonald on the ice, it was a nearly perfect night defensively for Philadelphia.

Star of the game

Interestingly, my player of the game is not a defenseman, but a goaltender. Pekka Rinne stopped seven scoring chances from the slot, which is a tall ask. For good measure, he stopped all 21 of the other Flyers shots as well. So far this season, Rinne has a 0.919 SV% and has allowed just four goals in the past four games. His first shutout of the season was well deserved.

Next: The Roster Logjam Is An Easy Fix

In the future, especially on the road, the Nashville Predators should strive for a tighter defensive performance to minimize dangerous chances. In terms of last night’s game, though, they performed just well enough.