Nashville Predators: How on Earth did Nashville Win that Game?

(Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The Nashville Predators are no strangers to being outplayed but winning. Goaltending dominance is undoubtedly a key to their success.

Through 31 games, the Nashville Predators have a shots-for-percentage of 48.79% at five-on-five. In descending order, that number is good for 21st in the NHL. In other words, Nashville goaltenders have a relatively difficult job. Their team frequently allows more shots on goal than they produce.

Last night, however, was simply laughable. Experts won’t tell you that allowing twice as many shots as you produce is a “formula for success.”

The Juuse is Loose(y?)

It’s not every night that your goaltender sets a new franchise record. Even rarer are instances when your 22-year old backup goaltender sets a franchise record. Also it was his seventh start of the season, the game was 2,000 miles away from home, and it was a 46-save shutout.

It doesn’t take an analyst to understand how significant Juuse Saros‘ performance was.

The Predators did not make his job easy. Against Vancouver, 100% of the team had an above-average Fenwick; the Canucks were essentially a non-factor. Edmonton provided the exact opposite situation; 83% of Predators players had a below-average Fenwick score.

Take a look at the shot attempts produced during the game:

Aside from a brief moment in the first five minutes of the game, Edmonton dominated shot attempts.

Is Juuse Saros the man? How dare you even ask me that question?

Standout players

As I mentioned, just 17% of Nashville Predators skaters produced an above-average Fenwick. That comes out to three guys. In a game featuring utter domination in possession, it makes sense to recognize those who stayed afloat. Here’s the trio, along with their Fenwick percentage (FF%) and high-danger chance percentage (HDCF%):

F. Forsberg13:1359.0957.14
C.  Smith9:5553.33100.00
A. Watson10:2450.0040.00

*time on ice at even strength

Filip Forsberg being first on the list is no surprise. Forsberg is routinely one of Nashville’s most dominant players at five-on-five. Last night, he picked up an assist, but that’s not the really impressive part. He spent most of his night matched against Edmonton’s second line and first defensive pairing. Still, Nashville produced more shot attempts than Edmonton while he was on the ice; a brief respite for Saros.

Craig Smith has been nuts this season. After 31 games, he has already matched his goal tally from last season, and is just nine away from last year’s point total. The Predators have absolutely solved the mystery of the second line; Craig Smith, Kyle Turris, and Kevin Fiala appear to be unstoppable. Their performance last night was certainly impressive, and Smith represents it well here.

Finally, Austin Watson impressed in terms of puck possession. His five-on-five Fenwick was dead even, and he was not entirely blown out in high-danger chances. Watson does a tough job, often blocking shots and bailing his team out of shorthanded situations. Night after night, his physical and aggressive presence helps his team immeasurably.

Let’s make it three

Tomorrow night, the Predators complete their tour of Western Canada with a visit to Calgary’s Saddledome. The Flames boast some superstar talent at both ends and will not give in easily on their home ice. Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan are point machines. Currently, Calgary sits fourth in the Pacific, out of a playoff spot due to the dominance of the Central.

Earlier this year, the Flames rallied late to beat Nashville in a shootout. The Predators gave up a late lead to allow the Flames a chance. Tomorrow night, Nashville should take lessons from their previous two games and keep the pedal down for sixty minutes.

Next: Five Thoughts For Friday, Dec 15th

The eyes of the league are certainly on Nashville. It’s time to prove just how tough to beat they are.