The Nashville Predators have struggled against very few opponents this season. One team providing constant headaches happens to be the NHL’s worst.
On Tuesday night, the Nashville Predators put away one of the league’s best teams in a one-goal thriller. Frankly, Nashville hadn’t played that well all season. It was immensely satisfying to watch these players reach their full potential, even with some wicked injuries.
On Thursday night, then, with Arizona in town, you wouldn’t be blamed for expecting domination. For the most part, Nashville indeed took command of shot attempts and puck possession. However, with just under five minutes left in regulation, I sat with my arms raised, wondering how they had lost another game to the Coyotes.
Of course, the result didn’t last. Ryan Ellis came through in a big way for his team, scoring the equalizer with 2:30 left on the clock. After a close overtime and extra rounds in the shootout, the Predators escaped with two valuable points.
The Arizona Coyotes lack speed, depth, and scoring talent. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but there’s just no other way to cut it. As a result, they are forced to play a very, well, boring style of hockey. They have no problem whatsoever with slow, monotonous puck possession. When the opponent is least expecting it, they put on the jets and try to sneak a goal in.
If you watched the game last night, their second goal is a perfect example. They waited and waited until Nashville’s defense was on its heels, allowing Brendan Perlini to cut in and fire home a gnarly backhand.
The possession stats, primarily, show a commanding performance by the Nashville Predators. Take a look at the graph below, illustrating Fenwick percentage (FF%), shots on goal percentage (SF%), and high-danger chance percentage (HDCF%):
In unblocked shot attempts (aka Fenwick), Nashville produced a sizable advantage. In shots on goal, things were close to even, but the Predators still took the lead. The final category is where games are often decided though. Shot attempts from the low slot, referred to as “high-danger” attempts, produce goals about 25% of the time, on average.
It’s worrying that the Predators were outplayed in this area by the Arizona Coyotes. It’s been a sore spot all season and doesn’t seem to be improving anytime soon.
Almost always, I keep my analysis to five-on-five numbers. Special teams create artificial ebbs and flows in statistical averages, making them relatively unhelpful in analyzing a team’s performance.
However, I’ve officially had enough of watching the Nashville Predators’ power play. Thursday night’s game simply broke my patience. I promise you, I am not the person yelling “shoot!” every three seconds during a man-advantage, far from it. However, it is painful to watch Nashville average 0.83 shots per minute on the power play.
Expanded to the rest of the season, mine is a difficult position to maintain. Nashville has the fourth-best power play in the NHL, converting 23.6% of their opportunities.
That said, they are below league average in some key areas, including shot attempts, shots on goal, and high-danger scoring chances. In other words, this team is producing above-average numbers from a below-average power play.
I understand why people will argue that there isn’t an issue with Nashville’s power play. If it converts so well, there appears to be little reason for change. My question is this, if Nashville can produce the league’s fourth-best power play in spite of pitiful possession numbers, what would it look like with above-average numbers? This would be the best power play in the NHL by an obscene margin.
All it takes, in my opinion, is better coaching. The scoring talent is there, and the results would quickly follow.
The Nashville Predators have another matchup against a struggling team tomorrow night, with the Florida Panthers in town. Florida, it seems, is another team that has Nashville’s number. Hopefully, the Predators will take lessons from their difficulties last night, and apply them to another struggling opponent.
Beyond the weekend, the opposition ramps up. After a visit to New Jersey on Tuesday, the team faces league-leading Tampa Bay at Bridgestone Arena. It’s a game I’ve had circled all year; hopefully, the two teams can produce a high octane contest.
Now, more than ever, details matter. The Central Division is incredibly close. My criticisms may seem nitpicky, but these minor aspects of the team’s performance will yield major results on the ice.