Nashville Predators: Emperor Rinne Continues Reign of Terror

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 7: Alexander Wennberg
COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 7: Alexander Wennberg /

The Nashville Predators completed a successful road trip with a three to one win in Columbus last night. Pekka Rinne proved to be nearly infallible in the gritty and often sloppy contest.

The Columbus Blue Jackets are 25-57-1 in all contests against the Nashville Predators. It’s safe to say they do not enjoy this matchup. I like to imagine GM Jarmo Kekäläinen lies awake each night, endlessly taunted by stick-wielding Smilodon skating circles around his head. Isn’t that a pleasant thought?

As usual, I digress.

With the victory last night, the Predators transformed a good road trip into an excellent one. My personal rule of thumb is that teams need at least 50% of road points available throughout a season. Grabbing six out of eight points in the past four games is a great look for this previously-floundering team.

Classic road game

Especially after spending a week away from home and crossing three time zones, the Nashville Predators came into Columbus on the back foot. For a team in their position, it’s usually easier to disrupt the other team’s system than enforce your own. Coincidentally, that’s exactly what happened.

The Blue Jackets won nearly every possession metric, including shots on goal, Corsi, Fenwick, and scoring chances. Really, the Predators only won in two metrics: save percentage and, well, goals. Nashville’s fourth line saw more ice time last night than in any previous game this season, if that tells you anything about the team’s approach.

Center battle

Unfortunately, Nick Bonino and Kyle Turris were both unable to make appearances last night. Considering the Columbus Blue Jackets are relatively healthy, though missing center Lukas Sedlak, one would expect them to win the positional battle. Last night, they featured Alexander Wennberg, Nick Foligno, Brandon Dubinsky, and Pierre-Luc Dubois at center.

As always, I’m only including even-strength stats in my analysis. Using Fenwick % (FF%) and high-danger scoring chances (HDCF%), here’s how Columbus’ centers looked last night:

A. Wennberg14:4067.8666.67
N. Foligno11:4647.3750.00
B. Dubinsky10:1352.380.00
P. Dubois11:4059.0983.33

*time on ice at even strength

Nineteen-year old Pierre-Luc Dubois had a monster game. In addition to the extremely solid possession numbers he posted, he also scored the Jackets’ only goal, unassisted. He spent the majority of his evening against the Salomaki-Jarnkrok-Fiala line. He was off the ice during every Predators goal. Wennberg also had a solid night, but was unable to produce on the score sheet.

The Nashville Predators centers will likely look very different in Saturday’s game than they did last night. In Columbus, the quartet consisted of Ryan Johansen, Colton Sissons, Calle Järnkrok, and Frédérick Gaudreau. Using the same even-strength metrics, here’s how they produced:

R. Johansen6:5830.770.00
C. Sissons11:3333.330.00
C. Järnkrok11:0742.8657.14
F. Gaudreau8:5462.5050.00

*time on ice at even strength

In a word: Yikes.

Johansen only played around 14 minutes at all strengths, and his last shift ended roughly 11 minutes into the third period. I can’t help but wonder if something’s up. Sissons played a very quiet game, getting dominated possession-wise and staying off the score sheet. Järnkrok scored the game-winning goal and had decent possession numbers. Pleasantly, Gaudreau did have a great game. He played like his spot in the lineup depended on it (which it does).

Defensive pairings

By any stretch of the imagination, the Nashville Predators have a much stronger defensive corps than the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Jackets do have a great pairing in Zach Werenski and Seth Jones, but it’s pretty average after that. Here’s how each of their pairings performed last night while at even strength:

Werenski – Jones13:2854.5525.00
Johnson – Savard7:5416.670.00
Murray – Nutivaara9:4282.3575.00

*time on ice at even strength

To their credit, Ryan Murray and Markus Nutivaara played lights-out. As a pair, they dominated possession stats and did not allow a goal while together. The Blue Jackets only allowed three unblocked shot attempts with these two on the ice.

Jack Johnson and David Savard did not have a good game. The Predators recorded 18 unblocked shots with the pair on the ice, including two high-danger chances and one goal.

On the other hand, here’s how the Predators pairings performed:

Josi – Ekholm14:1552.17100.00
Emelin – Subban12:1026.6733.33
Irwin – Weber7:1247.6225.00

*time on ice at even strength

Alexei Emelin, particularly, had a terrible game last night. In addition to his pairing’s poor numbers, he spent four minutes in the box for stupid penalties. P.K. Subban committed his annual neutral-zone-turnover-that-results-in-a-goal mistake, but otherwise played decently well.

Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm continue to be the Predators’ strongest defensive force. Matt Irwin had quite a night, with five shots and a goal to his name. He and Yannick Weber continue to quietly produce solid numbers for a third pairing.

Goaltending showcase

Being on the second half of a back-to-back, the Blue Jackets started Joonas Korpisalo between the pipes. His save percentage before the game sat at 0.878 through his three starts. Relative to that average, he had a great night in net.

Pekka Rinne, though, was an absolute force of nature. In addition to making every expected save, he made a number of highlight-reel stops. Unquestionably, the veteran goalie has been incredible this season, often rescuing the team from sure defeat.

Here’s a look at each goaltender’s performance, using shots (against) and saves made:

J. Korpisalo28260.929
P. Rinne36350.972

In summary, an excellent night from both players. Without a doubt, the Predators would have fallen short of victory had Rinne not saved the day.

Shot production

The Predators were definitely beaten in terms of generating quality chances last night. Unfortunately this has become the norm. Take a quick look at each team’s heat map from the game. Be sure to cycle through the strength filters to see how each team responded to different in-game situations.

Once again, the Nashville Predators allowed far too many chances in high-danger areas, while opting to take their own shots from the offensive zone perimeter. It’s a worrying trend so far this season, and almost certainly explains the low five on five scoring.

Looking ahead

The Predators now enjoy a few days off until their next game. In that time, it is expected that Kyle Turris and Nick Bonino will join the lineup, completely changing the look of this team at the center position.

Hopefully, the team will spend some practice time figuring out how to penetrate dangerous areas, while locking down the slot in their own defensive zone. Now that the discipline issue is improving, high-danger shot production remains the major headache for this promising team.

Next: The next move for Frederick Gaudreau

We’ll see the boys back in action on Saturday night as they engage in a dramatic contest against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Bridgestone Arena. Between the major roster changes and anticipated on-ice drama, you definitely won’t want to miss it.