Nashville Predators: The All-Pro Shutdown Pairing Is Back

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

Adding Ryan Ellis to the lineup was a gift in itself, but there was another change. The Nashville Predators got their all-pro shutdown pairing back.

For those that know me, I love shutdown players. I’ll talk till the cows come home about guys like Calle Jarnkrok, Austin Watson, Miikka Salomaki, Mattias Ekholm and more! Heck, it doesn’t even need to be Nashville Predators, I’ll go on and on about Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Jaccob Slavin, Patrice Bergeron, and even Hampus Lindholm! These guys are necessary to win Stanley Cups, and that was evidenced last season when the Predators rode the backs of P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm to the top of the mountain.

The sample size is still a bit small, but it’s worth a look over. All stats are at five on five unless expressed otherwise and feel free to use this article as a reference.

Who were Subban and Ekholm smothering?

Ekholm and Subban started playing serious minutes together after the resounding loss in Vegas. Through three games, the pair has played 49 minutes and 25 seconds together at five on five. Good for a little more than 16 minutes per night. Those aren’t easy minutes either, as the dynamic duo were always facing top six talent, mostly with their gaze fixed on the opponent’s first line.

Against Arizona, Subban and Ekholm spent equal time facing off against the Stepan line as well as the Keller line.  The duo had their work cut out for them in LA as they split their minutes against the Kopitar line as well as the second line which featured Tyler Toffoli. I like to imagine that the pair were ready to take a bit of a breather after their quick road trip, but Connor McDavid had other plans. Subban and Ekholm spent over 12 minutes trying to contain McDaddy and Leon Draisaitl.

If you watched those three games, you’ll know that results were mixed. Subban and Ekholm kept Kopitar, Keller, and Stepan to almost nothing, but the Oilers were different. Generational talents can beat even the best of lines on any given night. In fact, I’ve only ever seen three players shut McDavid down almost completely. Marc-Edouard Vlasic did in the first round of last season’s playoffs as McDavid had only a few points in six games. Then there was Hampus Lindholm in the second round of that playoffs. But the first time I ever saw McDavid contained was back in his time at Erie in the OHL. Where none other than his now-teammate Darnell Nurse left McDavid confused and frustrated. All this to say that Subban and Ekholm had their work cut out for them.


As always in this crazy world of ours, there’s some good news and some bad news. Let’s start with the good.

The good news is that the shutdown pair were possession giants. They actually controlled 59.38% of the shot attempts and had a Fenwick of 57.58% through their first three games. This culminated with 29 shots for and 16 shots against. If we do a bit of easy math, that means they’re averaging just under 10 shots for and just over five shots against. That’s almost doubling the opposition. The fact that they’re putting up these numbers while starting in the offensive zone 48.15% of the time is remarkable.

The pair were on the ice for 26 scoring chances for and 21 against. Although, the numbers are kind of skewed as most chances against came against McDavid. Not the Oilers, but just McDavid. High danger changes were nine for and eight against, which is fine but that’s a lot of high danger chances against. So that’s the good news, but it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows.

When facing talent like Kopitar and McDavid, you have to accept that chances and goals will be given up. Well, the shutdown pairing was no exception as they gave up two goals and only scored one of their own. One of these goals came against the Coyotes in overtime on a broken play where Subban blew his coverage. The other came on a highlight reel play where McDavid completely shrugged of an Ekholm body check and made him look like a light breeze. These goals tend to happen when going up against a top two player in the NHL.

Without the shutdown pair

To understand the impact that Subban and Ekholm made on the ice, let’s take a look at the Nashville Predators without them on the ice. It’s a mixed bag, to say the least, with some results being exactly what the Predators want and others being pretty terrible.

So once again, let’s start with the good!

In those three games, the rest of the Predators scored four goals and only gave up two! That is absolutely what Nashville wants as the other lines should be victimizing the lesser talented lines while the Subban-Ekholm pair shuts down the opposition’s scorers. This trend continued as the rest of the team won in the scoring chance category as well as high danger scoring chances. Although the scores are closer than anyone would like, they’re still positive.

Now, onto the bad news, which is mostly possession scores. The Nashville Predators have controlled 45.99% of shot attempts through the three games while their Fenwick is 43.88%, This ended in the Predators being outshot 31 to 39.

This is a bit unacceptable in my opinion as these lines aren’t facing top line talent and should be dominating the opposition. Their lack of shot attempts and possession in the offensive zone is a bit concerning. Although, I think the talent is there so I think the strategy is the issue.

Moving on

The first game back from the bye-week is a real test as the Nashville Predators take on the Vegas Golden Knights. Luckily the game will be in Nashville so the Predators can match lines and hopefully slow down Wild Bill Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault. That game will a challenge as each line will have their work cut out for them. It doesn’t matter if the line is defensively minded or focused on scoring, the Golden Knights aren’t going down easy.

No matter the challenge, the Subban-Ekholm pairing will be up to the task. They’re already playing up to their usual standard and I don’t see them slowing down anytime soon.

Next: Which Predators Got Snubbed In The All-Star Game