The Nashville Predators took their first regulation loss in five games yesterday. They outplayed the Rangers, but a sluggish start proved costly.
Matinee hockey games are strange. Don’t get me wrong – as a fan, I love the early puck drop. I was thrilled when I looked ahead to this weekend and saw an 11:30 am start time. Unfortunately, the Nashville Predators do not necessarily excel in these games. Last season, they won just two out of six that started before 7:00 pm local time.
In general, yesterday’s contest provided the same narrative as many road games before. While the Nashville Predators meander vaguely around the ice for the first period, the opposing team jumps up by one or two early goals. It happened in Boston, Pittsburgh, and now New York.
If you watched the game, you’ll know that the Predators were the better team for nearly sixty minutes. When you outshoot the opponent 25-15 and still lose the game, you look for a scapegoat. That is, what exactly went wrong? In many cases, poor shot selection is a key factor. I’ve included Andrew Berkshire’s handy map, which explains the average save percentage of shots taken from each area. The red area encompasses “high danger” scoring chances.
In proportion to their total shots taken, the Rangers definitely exercised better shot selection in the game. Of their 15 shots on goal, 11 came from the above-labeled “red zone,” or the low slot. Even though they were outshot substantially, it’s impressive that 73% of their shots were considered high danger. Although this has been an ongoing theme for the Predators. They have a tough time keeping opposing forwards out of the slot.
The Nashville Predators did record a couple more high danger chances, with 13 out of 25 shots coming from the low slot. With so many more shots on goal, however, you’d like to see more taken from dangerous areas.
The table below breaks down each team’s shots on goal (SOG), high-danger chances for (HDCF) and against (HDCA), as well as the percentage of high danger chances taken by each team (HDCF%).
Analyzing each player’s performance can be done in a couple of ways. For example, I can tell you from watching the game that Alexei Emelin looked dismal for the Rangers’ first two goals. On the first, his lack of speed was exposed. On the second, it was his lack of awareness. He’s played well recently, but yesterday was his worst game with the Predators so far.
There were a lot of questions before the game as to why Samuel Girard was benched in place of Yannick Weber or Matt Irwin. I am definitely perplexed by Peter Laviolette’s decision. Unfortunately for Girard fans, Weber and Irwin led the team yesterday in puck possession at even strength. The Predators outshot the Rangers 4-1 when these two were on the ice.
In reality, about 90% of the Predators on the ice yesterday played very well. In almost every measurable aspect, the Rangers were dominated. If not for two or three costly defensive miscues, the score would have been more like 2-1 Nashville.
Lundqvist Saves the Day
It’s tempting to blame Juuse Saros for allowing three goals on fourteen shots, but the blame is not deserved. Saros was completely hung out to dry on each goal. As he continues to develop, he’ll improve and be able to stop a few of those chances as well.
In terms of goaltending, I’d encourage you to look at the other end of the ice. Henrik Lundqvist was simply amazing yesterday. He bailed his team out on the regular with some nifty glove saves. The Rangers’ defense was extremely permeable throughout the game, but the Predators were held to just two goals on 25 shots. Even as he nears the end of his career, Lundqvist is still a top-tier goaltender in the NHL.
As a fan, I want to see more out of the coaching staff. The frequency at which the Nashville Predators are outscored in the first period is extremely frustrating. I am placing it on the coaches to start getting players fired up from the start, and encourage them to just bury teams. They have the ability to do it, that’s for sure. They need to tap into that ability much earlier on, however, or road games will continue to be a sore spot.
Luckily for the Predators, their next matchup is on home ice. They’ll look to get back on track against the 4-4-0 Calgary Flames on Tuesday night in Nashville.