The Nashville Predators had a unique opportunity over the weekend. They were able to play the same team in a back-to-back format at home and away.
I usually hate back-to-backs as they usually give one team an edge in a game, but this instance was different. The Nashville Predators met the same foe on two consecutive nights and in different arenas. This offered an interesting opportunity and gave us a look how a Nashville-Minnesota series might go. Predators’ fans should be happy that Nashville took the second game, but shouldn’t be arrogant because of how they lost the first game.
There’s a story to be told over the past two games, and it’s not a pretty one. Using this unique set of the circumstances, let’s examine the differences between the two games and how one led to a Predators’ victory, and the other led to defeat.
All stats below are at five on five unless expressed otherwise. For reference, please use this article for an explanation of each stat used.
The Nashville Predators did the unthinkable and won the possession battle in both games. In fact, the Wild weren’t able to produce more than 50% of the shot attempts in any period of play. This is quite the accomplishment as the Wild like to overpower opponents with depth rather than star power. The bottom six held their own and performed admirably, that will pay off in dividends if their play continues into the playoffs. Let’s take a look at the Predators’ possession scores below.
These possession scores actually make a lot of sense, even though the Predators lost on Friday. The Wild played prevent defense and sacrificed offense for defense and, to their credit, it worked. If you adjust for score and venue on Friday night’s game, the Corsi and Fenwick drop a few points. Not enough of consequence, but it falls in line with how we’d expect.
While it’s great that the Predators were able to produce elite level scores, there are some other numbers to look at. The domination occurred because Nashville was throwing everything at the net. On Friday, They generated 61 shot attempts and 45 unblocked attempts but gave up 40 shot attempts and 33 unblocked attempts. I love the offense, but it also seems like they were directly sacrificing defense. The story didn’t really change on Saturday as the Predators produced 63 shot attempts and 45 unblocked attempts. But they did give up 48 shot attempts and 36 unblocked attempts.
The Predators won the battle on quantity, but the battle of quality went a very different way.
Using the little chart below, the numbers are Predators’ chances/Wild’s chances.
|High Danger Chances
A quick look at the chart above will not provide relief or satisfaction to the Nashville faithful. The Predators got beat in every category except regular scoring chances on Saturday. Not only did they get beat, but they got dominated in a few instances. The worst being high danger chances on both Friday and Saturday, where their total was doubled.
The old saying “when in doubt, get pucks on net” might not ring as true anymore. Not all shots are created equal, and it might benefit the Predators to maintain possession rather than shoot from a low danger area. Regardless of strategy, the Wild dominated a disorganized Predators’ defense. If not for the heroics of Juuse Saros and Pekka Rinne, both games could’ve gone differently or worse.
If, like me, you may have thought that these numbers are outliers, just know that we’re both wrong. The Nashville Predators have created 276 high danger chances, good for 26th in the NHL while giving up 311 high danger chances, good for 17th in the NHL. They’re absolutely terrible at producing high danger chances while only average at preventing them, this is not a good mix for the future.
The fact that the Predators won a game despite being losing the high danger chance battle 16 to 26 is so lucky. Rinne and Saros are owed an expensive dinner by the defense are this weekend. Let’s take a deeper look at the goalies and who may have had it tougher.
Let’s take a look at Friday’s heat map first, find it directly below.
You can toggle through whatever situation you like, but I’m focusing on five on five. The pretty colours above paint a not-so-pretty picture. The Wild generated over five shots from the net front area while the Predators only managed three or so. While the Predators probably have a bigger radius that they shot from, the Wild’s is much more centered. Although the three goals that came at five on five for both teams were not from high danger areas, it just tells me how tested each goalie was. Devan Dubnyk had a relatively easier night than Rinne, even though they faced the same number of shots.
Rinne had little help from his defense and centers as he faced multiple chances from the high danger areas. That red spot in his crease isn’t an anomaly, as it’s there most nights. Despite his heroic efforts, not even Rinne could contain the onslaught and propel the Predators to victory.
Now, let’s take a look at Saros’ challenge.
It looks better than what Rinne faced, but still not great. Once again, the Predators’ offensive side looks like a Jackson Pollock painting with no one area getting the majority of the shots. The only goal at five on five coming from Scott Hartnell on a slick wraparound. A good goal from a great high danger area. Otherwise, the Nashville Predators couldn’t really crack the slot or net-front area.
The Wild’s offensive zone was a different story though. They penetrated a lackadaisical defense with relative ease and put Saros to the test. For whatever reason, Saros was able to stand taller than Rinne, although that’s not an indictment on Rinne’s play.
The wings did a good job of preventing shots from the point but unfortunately couldn’t keep the defenders from the middle. Although I favor points from the middle over points from the slot, the defense could prevent neither.
What was the difference that led to a win one night and a loss on the other? Honestly, it’s just execution and goaltending. The numbers show that while the Nashville Predators dominated possession, they did little with it.
The main difference was not found at five on five though, it was special teams. Not even special teams play, but just general special teams. The Predators took spent 10 minutes on the penalty kill on Friday and it destroyed them. The Wild took advantage as they scored a goal, but more importantly, they kept the Predators on the defensive through much of the third pairing. Saturday was totally different as they only spent six minutes on the penalty kill with one coming in the third period.
The Nashville Predators played a good game overall but they were not perfect. They have the talent, but they’re still not infiltrating the high danger areas. My belief is that this a coaching issue rather than a player issue, although I’m not sure the exact solution. The defense is more of the same as they can’t protect the area that matters the most. It can’t be the players as the Predators boast a top three defense. There are changes that must be made, because this weekend could’ve easily seen the Wild taking four points in easy fashion.