Nashville Predators: Getting Lucky Where It Matters

ST. LOUIS, MO - DECEMBER 27: Filip Forsberg
ST. LOUIS, MO - DECEMBER 27: Filip Forsberg /

Reports are saying that the Nashville Predators are hitting their peak. After looking at the numbers, let’s hope this isn’t the top of the mountain.

You have to be good to be lucky, but this is starting to get ridiculous. I love that the Nashville Predators are pulling out victories but there are some underlying worries. Possession scores (Corsi and Fenwick) are helpful indicators for individuals but don’t paint a great picture of teams. In my opinion, high danger chances for and against paint a better picture of how a team is doing overall.

Unfortunately, these colors that are painting a picture are not pretty. Let’s take a look at an actual picture before we get too far into the numbers.

For a better explanation of any statistic used, please consult this article. All stats are five on five unless expressly stated otherwise.

The colors

For reference, red is good and blue is bad. The high danger areas are within 15 feet of the nets and as wide as till the circles. As you can tell, a large portion of the high danger area looks as blue as the deepest part of the sea. The only good part is that little red area near the left side of the net. It get’s fairly deep but not too much. You’ll notice that the deepest red is near the right side of the wall, a noticeably low danger area. The Nashville Predators are an average possession team but do little with it when they actually take a shot.

The other thing that’s a little disturbing is the lack of shots coming from the point. The Predators’ defense is top three in the NHL, yet they’re having a tough time generating shots. The main takeaway here is that the Predators can’t get a shot off from somewhere that matters.

For reference below, red is bad and blue is good. If these two heat maps were swapped for each other, the Nashville Predators would be elite. But they aren’t swapped, and the Predators aren’t performing well at all. The defense is doing all they can to keep players out of the slot but they’re getting beat in every facet. A team with P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm shouldn’t be struggling as hard as they currently are. In fact, the main reason the Predators brought in Alexei Emelin (besides Ellis insurance) was because of his ability to bulldoze the crease. In that regard, he’s been relatively useless although he has gone up against top offensive talent. No offense to Emelin, but he’s no longer capable of handling that talent, if he ever was.

The third pair is an absolute atrocity who, on most nights, needs to start in the offensive zone more than 60% of the time in order to not be hemmed in their own zone all night. I believe this is why the return of Ellis has moved Ekholm to the third pair, instead of by Subban’s side. They’re attempting to stabilize the third pair but are sacrificing the second pair’s skill to do so.

Alright, let’s look at the chart. In a word, terrible. That hot spot that encompasses the crease is literally the worst possible thing. This means that forwards are penetrating the slot and getting plenty of shots on net. Both normal shot and tips are included, although, through the eye test, I’ve found that most are actually wrist shots and rebounds. Otherwise, the wingers aren’t exactly playing stout defense, as defensemen are coming to the middle and getting shots from the center point. Shots from the point are preferred over shots near the net front, but allowing both is a recipe for disaster.

With all of these pretty colours out the way, let’s get to everyone’s favorite part, the numbers.

In too deep

Before we go any farther, I have to talk about PDO, otherwise known as the lucky stat. Never ever use it to determine if a player is good or bad, but it can help us figure out if a team in punching above their weight or just generally unlucky. With PDO, we’ll see how lucky the Predators really are.

Let’s talk generally for a moment, the Nashville Predators are currently riding a 101.1 PDO with a 7.87 shooting percentage and a 93.21 save percentage. Those combined numbers are good for 9th highest in the NHL. So Nashville is generally one of the luckier teams considering the average is 100. That’s not the crazy part though, what’s insanely lucky is what’s going on in the high danger areas.

Other teams are taking Nashville to the cleaners in both the offensive and defensive zone. The Predators have generated 276 high danger chances (26th in the NHL) while giving up 311 (13th) against. Luckily for the Predators, this has translated to 36 high danger goals for and 33 high danger goals against.

Through some very simple math, we’re left with a few percentages. Their high danger shooting percentage is 13.04 (9th in NHL) and their save percentage is 89.39 (5th). Both totals being in the top 10 in the NHL despite a lack of numbers is a bit alarming. That leaves the Predators with a high PDO of 102.4. That’s pretty high, especially when you consider that the national average high danger PDO is 100.4, the average shooting percentage is 12.52%  and the average save percentage is 87.83%.

The perfect example

The 3-0 win against Minnesota is the perfect example of Nashville pulling off a victory through luck. The Predators dominated the possession game but couldn’t do anything of purpose with it. In fact, Juuse Saros was a man possessed as he stopped all 11 high danger chances at five on five with little help. Meanwhile, the offense could only manage five high danger chances of their own, with one goal coming from that area.

The sad fact is that this team that’s loaded with talent is stalling in the offensive zone, while they’re continuously being bailed out by their goaltender. If Rinne or Saros have a bad, or even mediocre game, it could end very poorly.

My thoughts are to change the system to one that favors cycling. Let the forwards’ speed wear out the opposition while continuously looking for a pass to the inside. It’s better than the current system which is to just toil in the corners with layered support while there is no opening, then after a while, the forwards opt to pass to the point for a low danger shot and hopefully a tip. Which there are rarely any because the Predators are not good at getting to the center of the zone.

In short…

In short, the Nashville Predators are getting outrageously lucky. Not only on their normal shots and saves, but especially from the high danger areas. In my opinion, it’s not the talent, so it must be the strategy. The only issue is that nothing will change while the team is winning, and I don’t want the team to lose. But it may be beneficial for the team to lose now, so that they can win when it truly matters.

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