The Nashville Predators faced a desperate Montreal Canadiens last night. Scrappy and often frustrating, the game offered plenty of talking points.
Recently underperforming teams always provide an inherent challenge to opponents. Even the most experienced players can feel a false sense of security, with the knowledge that they “should” win. The 2017-18 Nashville Predators, for example, should beat the 2017-18 Montreal Canadiens. In the end, the Predators took full points from the game. However, it wasn’t exactly pretty.
If you need (brief) respite from your family today, you’re in luck.
First of all, when you look at the possession numbers for individual players, you’ll notice something interesting. The entire Predators’ fourth line is leading the pack, including Frederick Gaudreau, Pontus Aberg, and Miikka Salomaki. Here’s how some of those numbers look, using even-strength Fenwick for (FF%) and high-danger chances for (HDCF%):
These numbers are good. Great, even, when you consider this is the fourth line. The time on ice (TOI) numbers, actually, are the only concerning factor. In previous games, Cody McLeod’s TOI was usually around 6:30. The other two on his line would regularly break ten minutes. This is the first time this season, as far as I’m aware, that an entire line’s usage has been so low.
During the first two periods, this line was on pace for just over nine minutes of ice time. During the third period, though, they took only two shifts. The numbers don’t lie; they effectively generated shots and suppressed opponents early in the game. In fact, the Predators generated about twice as many shots as the Canadiens during their shifts. However, the team still opted for the first three lines with a close game in the third.
During the team’s long road trip a couple weeks ago, Ryan Johansen became a source of slight concern. In addition to a relatively low time on ice for several nights, his play was somewhat below his usual standard. Many, myself included, wondered if a slight injury was to blame.
Since returning home from that trip, he has put those concerns to bed. Johansen manages to affect every area of the game positively. Last night, he was a centerpiece again:
*time on ice at even strength
Perhaps most impressively here is the last column. The Canadiens failed to produce a single high-danger scoring chance while Johansen was on the ice. As a center, his responsibility is to shut down that exact area defensively. Any time your top center is excelling at suppressing chances, your team is set up for victory.
I am comfortable in making the following audacious statement. Ryan Johansen is the best forward on the Nashville Predators, and it’s not close. Even when his name isn’t on the score sheet, he is influencing the team’s play. Viktor Arvidsson may have the hustle, Filip Forsberg may have the snipe, but Johansen makes the world go ’round.
Very special teams
The Nashville Predators are an interesting double-edged sword this year. Their power play is the best in the NHL. The drawback is that they rely on it far too often. Last night, both of the home team’s regulation goals came from the man-advantage. In a tough, gritty matchup like this one, there’s no harm in using the power play to get the job done.
The Predators’ penalty kill is also excelling this year, which is a very good thing. Nashville is the most penalized team in the NHL. Currently, they have the ninth-ranked PK in the league, with a solid 83.7% through 21 games.
Using goals for (GF), unblocked shot attempts (FF) and high-danger chances created (HDCF), let’s take a look at each team’s power play last night:
|Time on PP
No doubt about it, Nashville dominated this battle. Both teams had the same number of high-danger chances. Nashville had more shot attempts, and (obviously) more goals.
After the short holiday break, the Nashville Predators have their toughest challenge of the season, so far. On Friday, the team visits St. Louis to challenge the best team in the Western Conference. It will be a major test of their ability to stay out of the penalty box, and get ahead on the scoreboard.
In the meantime, I certainly wish you all a happy (American) Thanksgiving!