The Nashville Predators took down the speedy Bruins last night. The B’s had the advantage throughout the game, but the Predators took smarter shots.
Since the beginning of the season, the Nashville Predators have struggled in a very specific offensive area. The stats folks call it “high-danger scoring chances at five-on-five.” Basically, it means Nashville can’t do squat unless they’re on a power play. Or, at least, until recently.
Craig Smith, especially, dominated the high-danger area last night. In addition to his two goals, he contributed to three high-danger scoring chances at five-on-five. With Ryan Johansen injured and most of Nashville’s forward lines disrupted, Smith chose a great night to put up three points.
The Boston Bruins controlled shot production throughout the game. Nashville’s only respite from the onslaught was during a couple of power plays, although the Bruins did grab a shorthanded tally in the third period.
When the dust settled, Boston outshot Nashville 40-25 at all strengths, and 30-21 at five-on-five. Here’s a look at the shot attempts generated by each team throughout the game:
The typical third period collapse actually began in the first period for the Nashville Predators last night. Nashville’s four goals successfully disguised the disadvantage in shot attempts, although the walls quickly came down as Boston tallied three straight.
Another way to visualize Boston’s advantage is through zone starts. Typically, Nashville tends to “shelter” their first line, allowing them to start shifts in the offensive zone as often as possible. Last night, not a single forward line for the Predators enjoyed such a luxury. For all four groups of players, their zone starts were heavily weighted in the neutral or defensive zones. Here’s a visual illustration of the imbalance, with defensive zone starts (DZS) in black, neutral zone starts (NZS) in gray, and offensive zone starts (OZS) in gold:
As you can see, nobody was set up for success last night. Nashville played on the back foot for the majority of the game, which makes a forward’s life very difficult.
But we won!
In spite of the possession disadvantage, the Nashville Predators did claim a regulation win last night. How is that possible? Through our old friend, shot selection.
True, Boston had the edge in shot attempts by a long way. However, they managed just seven high-danger chances to Nashville’s eleven at five-on-five. All five of Nashville’s goals came from high-danger chances (shots from the low slot). Here’s a telling look at the shot heat map from last night:
Even with the advantage, statistically speaking, the Bruins should have scored 1.61 goals from their even-strength high danger chances. Pekka Rinne, once again, bailed the Nashville Predators out. While Nashville is looking better and better on offense, defensive collapses from their top blue liners are still a worrying trend each night. If not for very solid goaltending, it’s seriously unlikely that Nashville would occupy a top-three spot in the Central Division.
Keep at it
Regardless of the underlying concerns, it’s hard to argue with the Predators’ performance lately. They are getting the right result almost every night. Currently, they are placed second in the Central Division, with a juicy opportunity to take first with a win in Dallas tonight.
Obviously, expect to see Juuse Saros in net. Will his performance be inspired enough to cover for defensive mistakes? For now, the Predators should hope so.
With a bit of time off coming up after this week, I certainly suggest taking a hard look at the blue line and addressing some concerns. It will only make a great team even better.