Nashville Predators: Domination of the Absolute Highest Order

(Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)
(Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images) /

With NBC in town, the Nashville Predators looked to bounce back from an embarrassing loss to last-place Chicago. The result was an absolute statement.

The Nashville Predators rarely leave me speechless. Unfortunately for them, they always seem to provide a worrying talking point. Even in their wins this season, and there have been many, there is always a lingering concern that gets overlooked.

Last night, though, they provided no such concern. Rather, they took advantage of the national spotlight, using it as an opportunity to showcase their lethality to the hockey world.

It’s all good news. I’ll put aside my usual buzzkill perspective and break down everything that went right for the Nashville Predators last night.

Dirty areas

As I’ve preached all year, the Predators have an aversion to the slot in the attacking zone. They are more than happy skating around the perimeter, taking occasional potshots from the blue line. It’s a formula that gets repetitive and very predictable for opponents.

Moreover, opposing teams often break into the low slot unhindered. In spite of their incredible defensive roster, Nashville frequently has problems, well, defending.

Last night, there was zero evidence of these concerns. A picture is worth a thousand words:

That is an illustration of destruction. All five of Nashville’s goals came from high-danger areas. They ended up with nineteen, yes, nineteen high danger chances at all strengths. Just for reference, the league average is 11 high-danger chances per game.

At the other end of the ice, Los Angeles produced next to nothing in dangerous areas. They ended up with just six high-danger chances after sixty minutes.

Watching the game, it’s easy to see why Nashville was so successful: the neutral zone. The Predators quickly and effectively entered the attacking zone, allowing clean passes and quality chances. For the Kings, the neutral zone was a minefield. When they were able to enter Nashville’s defensive zone, the puck was often bouncing and difficult to control.

Controlling the neutral zone is a key factor in winning hockey games. Last night, the Nashville Predators planted their flag and kept it there.

Advantages counted

In spite of it being the third-ranked power play in the NHL, I have my concerns with how the Predators organize themselves with the man-advantage. I’ve never seen a team rely so heavily on a dump-and-chase style on a power play, and it gets very predictable.

Again, last night exemplified a revival. The name of the game? Creativity. Forwards, rather than skating into mismatches, were finding the trailing man for an open shot. Jonathan Quick probably saw more of Viktor Arvidsson‘s back than he did the puck.

The ability to change their approach was refreshing, to say the least. Rather than slamming their heads against the wall for two minutes, they regrouped, readjusted, and made the chances count.

Two of Nashville’s five goals came from the power play, but they tallied their third goal just seconds after Drew Doughty stepped out of the box in the first period. The power play looked more dangerous than it has all season, and allowed the momentum to remain in Nashville’s favor throughout.

Team effort

Aside from some key individual efforts, fans should be excited by the entire team’s performance. Using unblocked shot attempts (FF%), high-danger scoring chances (HDCF%), and offensive zone faceoff percentage (oZS%), here’s a look at how the forward lines performed:

Created by Michael Wade (2/1/2018)
Created by Michael Wade (2/1/2018) /

In addition to combining for two goals and three assists, the Predators’ first line looked completely unstoppable. Nashville generated 70.59% of the total unblocked shot attempts while this trio was on the ice. Furthermore, they generated more high-danger chances than the Kings. They did enjoy over 80% of their faceoffs being taken in the offensive zone, but took full advantage of the situation.

The second line was back to its usual composition, with Kyle Turris centering Kevin Fiala and Craig Smith. This line produced a goal and an assist, and allowed Los Angeles zero room on offense. They, too, enjoyed a sheltered zone deployment. It’s a trend we’ve seen all year. When it pays off, the Predators win games.

The bottom six performed extremely admirably as well. This group deals with the zone start mismatch created by the top two lines, and are often forced to play defensively. In last night’s case, they pulled it off in impressive fashion.

The Kings did not produce a single high-danger chance when Nashville’s bottom two forward lines were skating. You simply cannot ask for more.

Statement game

The most exciting aspect of the performance is its implications for the future. As the postseason draws ever closer, time is running out to fix concerns. In some cases, all it takes is a statement performance from a team to remind everyone why they play the game.

Last night absolutely has the potential to be that game. In a few weeks, most neutral spectators won’t be able to tell you who Nashville played against. Aside from Drew Doughty ringing a slapshot off the post, the Kings were essentially a non-factor all night.

For those like me who have been worried about this team’s playoff prospects, it’s a late reminder of their contender status.

The Nashville Predators are for real. When the whole team shows up to play, opponents simply don’t have an answer. There’s still some hockey to play, but Ryan Johansen says it best:

Next: January Awards For Predators