The Nashville Predators threw conventions to the wind last night. Sustained pressure and offensive depth saw the Predators come out on top.
Much like the Nashville Predators last night, I’m just going to jump right in. Here’s a cool stat: in the first period against the Washington Capitals, the Predators took 85.71% of the shots on goal. In fact, they were about two minutes away from allowing zero shots on net during the entire period. They also claimed 88.89% of the total scoring chances, 87.50% of the high-danger scoring chances, and 100% of the goals.
In a word: domination.
I lost count of how many times I said “wow” during the first 20 minutes. It was somewhere between five and check-the-mirror-to-make-sure-you-didn’t-transform-into-Owen-Wilson.
I’m going to start with a weaker area of the Predators performance, mostly just to get it over with. Of the six Nashville defensemen who took the ice last night, only two recorded great possession stats. Using even-strength Fenwick (FF%) and high-danger chances for (HDCF%), here’s how the three pairings played:
|Subban – Emelin
|Josi – Ekholm
|Irwin – Bitetto
*time on ice at even strength
First of all, there is some very good news. P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm led the team with 22:46 and 21:25 time on ice at all strengths. Considering we’ve seen 27 and even 28 minutes from both of these guys in previous games, this is a huge step forward. A major key to the prolonged success of this team will be keeping every skater well below 30 minutes a night.
Mattias Ekholm and Roman Josi are definitely the stars of the group from last night. As a pairing, they were on the ice for four Predators goals and one by the Capitals. P.K. Subban and Alexei Emelin‘s numbers are less convincing, but actually pretty good considering they spent just under 15 minutes defending Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov.
Matt Irwin and Anthony Bitetto recorded a less-than-ideal Fenwick score of 39.13% at even strength. They were defending during the Capitals second goal after all five Predators were stranded for roughly two full minutes. Full credit to Washington, but you really need a defenseman to step up and win a puck battle. Hopefully, the situation was a wakeup call for the coaches. The fourth forward line and third defensive pairing should be combined with caution.
Get to the fun part
Don’t worry, the iffy aspect of the Predators’ performance is out of the way. Let’s talk offense!
I doubt I’m alone in thinking that last night’s contest was a weird hockey game. Nine goals, including seven in the second period, is nuts. Here’s why it was so nuts: seven (possibly eight) of the nine goals scored were deflected in front of the goalie. It’s a drum I’ve been beating for a very long time, and I’ll continue to do so: high-danger scoring areas. The game is won in the low slot.
Take a look at the heatmap from last night (select “All” to see the full picture). Notice where most of the little “G”s are:
Six of the goals last night came from “high danger” areas, right in front of the goalie crease. Unfortunately, the Capitals outcompeted the Predators in these areas for all but the first period. Here’s how the game broke down, in terms of high-danger chances for the Predators (HDCF), for the Capitals (HDCA), and the ratio (HDCF%):
The Nashville Predators are doing well to attack the net and create high danger chances. If the defense and backchecking forwards can lock down their own slot, this team will be nearly impossible to beat.
Depth, depth, depth
Not only did the Nashville Predators score six goals last night, each goal came from a different player. There are a lot of talking points here. Filip Forsberg tallied his 100th career goal, the first player drafted in 2012 to do so. Kevin Fiala finally found the net; hopefully the floodgates will open. And Nick Bonino scored after missing weeks with an injury.
When the dust settled, only six Predators had failed to record a point last night. Surprisingly, Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Johansen are two of those players. However, I will argue that it was JoFA’s best game since week 2 of the season.
Kyle Turris, Craig Smith, and Kevin Fiala picked up where they left off on Saturday. This line looks so, so good. As many fans have pointed out, the Predators have more of a “1A, 1B” top six now, rather than a true first and second line.
Here’s a look at the Predators lines last night:
*time on ice at even strength
Unfortunately, the good news only includes the top nine. The fourth line, which consisted of Cody McLeod, Nick Bonino, and Austin Watson, did not impress. They did combine for eight hits, but allowed a goal after failing to get off the ice for nearly two full minutes. Watson continues to do everything McLeod can and more. Number 55 is long overdue for a replacement on this lineup. We can only make so many excuses for so long.
Michael’s three stars
Third star – Miikka Salomaki: Everyone slept on the guy after an injury all but eliminated him from last season. He is proving to be an extremely valuable depth scorer.
Second star – Calle Jarnkrok: He spent most of his night against Ovechkin and Kuznetsov. While he was on the ice, the Predators generated twice as many scoring chances as the Capitals.
First star – Kyle Turris: This guy is quickly becoming the second most effective player on this team. Center depth is a beautiful, beautiful thing.
At the end of the day, it’s a hard game to be overly critical of. There were some defensive miscues, but the Predators responded to all three Capitals goals extremely well.
The Nashville Predators are now on a five game win streak. It is the team’s longest win streak since 2015. The attitude of this organization is clear: Stanley Cup or bust.