Nashville Predators: Hello Offense, My Old Friend

ANAHEIM, CA - NOVEMBER 3: Scott Hartnell
ANAHEIM, CA - NOVEMBER 3: Scott Hartnell /

The Nashville Predators picked up a huge win in Anaheim last night. The game was brutally fought, but the visitors held the lead throughout.

Using a rough estimate, I’d say the Nashville Predators’ offense has underperformed in 90% of games this season. Before tonight, the team had combined for 28 goals in 12 games. If one omits Filip Forsberg, that number drops to 20. Especially after a dismal loss in San Jose the other night, the Predators’ forwards appeared to be in very rough shape.

Last night’s win in Anaheim was far from perfect. However, it definitely showed that the Predators are still capable of producing offensively. Above all, I was impressed by their ability to pressure the slot, rather than sticking to the perimeter. Don’t get me wrong, there was still a lot of harmless possession around the zone. Look at the first two goals, though – they were the direct result of attacking a high-danger area.

Meaningful pressure

It’s one thing to enter the offensive zone. In fact, despite their dump-and-chase tendencies, the Nashville Predators can do it quite well. It’s another thing entirely to move the puck into the slot and truly challenge a goaltender. As always, I’ll direct your attention to this excellent graphic from Sportsnet’s Andrew Berkshire.

Shots from beyond the faceoff circle are saved between 95% and 98% of the time. While it helps a team’s possession numbers to take those clappers from the blue line, it’s not always conducive to victory. Valuable chances arise when the puck moves into the slot, where the chance of a save drops by up to 20%.

Take a look at this heat map from last night. Select “All,” and you’ll be able to see each team’s ability to generate shots throughout the game. Four of the goals scored – two by each team – came from these dangerous areas. While a 50-foot slapper is flashy and makes the highlight reel, games are won in the slot.

The Predators were still outplayed in these areas, to be honest. The defense still needs to work on forcing attackers to the outside. However, with Pekka Rinne in his current form, they have a distinct advantage every night. Meanwhile, the forwards have to focus on keeping up pressure in high-danger areas. Especially during gritty, exhausting games on the road.

Michael’s three five stars

That’s right, there are too many to follow normal NHL conventions. No fewer than five Nashville Predators players made my list. Pekka Rinne deserves this almost every single night, so I’m only including skaters.

This group combined for four points, including three goals. I’m also including their Fenwick scores (FF%) to illustrate just how important each was to the Predators’ puck possession at even strength.

PlayerEV TOI*PointsFF%
Scott Hartnell15:43172.73
Ryan Johansen17:04066.67
Austin Watson12:01052.63
Roman Josi19:37252.17
Matt Irwin13:12150.00

*time on ice at even strength

First of all, Scott Hartnell proved my point about pressuring the slot. Is a ricochet goal off a trailing skate sexy? Not necessarily, but it gets the job done. Attack the net and good things happen. On top of that, his possession numbers were incredible. The Predators generated about 50% more shots than the Ducks while Hartnell was on the ice.

Ryan Johansen continues his campaign as most valuable skater. I know, his points have been very low. However, when he is on the ice, good things nearly always happen for the Nashville Predators. Last night was no exception; he played over twenty minutes total and put up an excellent Fenwick score.

Austin Watson made it onto this list based on his last shift alone. He spent about a full minute on the ice during the 6v5. During that time, he blocked two shots and cleared the puck twice. Ol’ Toothless is an absolute beast in shorthanded situations, and he definitely earned a spot in this group tonight.

Let’s Talk Defense

The final two stars of the night come from the blue line. Roman Josi singlehandedly illustrated how to play offense to this snakebitten team in the first period. His assist was essentially a shot off of Hartnell’s skate. It resulted from Josi taking the puck the length of the ice and firing it into the slot. His goal was simply incredible. The Predators’ captain slices through the offensive zone like no other defenseman in the NHL, and has a wicked release to boot.

Finally, Matt Irwin makes my list. While his second period goal certainly helps, it’s not the reason he’s included. For me, it’s all about possession. Yes, he posted an exactly-average 50% Fenwick last night. Take a closer look at his opposition though. Nearly all of Irwin’s night was spent defending Antoine Vermette, Ondrej Kase, and Nick Ritchie. That is an extremely tall order for a third-pairing defenseman. Considering he was on the ice for two Predators goals and zero by the Ducks, I’d consider his night a huge success.

Looking ahead

For the Nashville Predators, it is essential to continue pressuring the slot in the offensive zone. A lot of their usual superstars are struggling to score at the moment. Until everyone’s confidence picks up, this team will rely on ugly goals. The best thing about ugly goals, though? They look the same on the scoreboard.

Next: Five Thoughts For Friday, Nov 3rd

The Predators have a tough matchup in Los Angeles tonight against the hottest team in the West. For my sake and theirs, I certainly hope they can keep the offense going.