The game between the Islanders and Nashville Predators was exciting, which means it was a coach’s nightmare. Defense definitely took a backseat.
Defense has always been an integral facet of hockey, but it seems like it’s becoming more and more important. The Nashville Predators’ blueline made them cup favorites as early as last season. And even though their backend features P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, and Ryan Ellis, they still struggle in their own zone. Their strength lies in transition and their ability to get the puck out of their zone, but if the opposition establishes possession, things could get wild. Take a look at this heat map for the game, and you’ll see the issue.
Even when ignoring the third pair which features Yannick Weber and Alexei Emelin, the defense can get run over in their own zone. Defensively strong forwards like Filip Forsberg and Austin Watson help, but there’s only so much they can do.
Tonight was a perfect example of the bluelines’ lackadaisical play, as the Islanders’ offense had plenty of high danger chances. Let’s go through pair by pair. All stats are at even strength.
Do you want charts? Because you’re going to get charts! For reference, I’m using unblocked shot attempts (Fenwick), High Danger Chances (HDC), goals, and zone starts. Zone starts for are in the offensive zone, and against are in the defensive zone.
The pair was on the ice for just under 16 minutes and their impact was felt on offense. As you can see, they won their shot share and were on the ice for one goal. Here’s where things go a little awry.
They gave up 6 high danger chances, just under half of the 14 that the Islanders had at even strength. They did mainly face the Barzal line, but the duo consistently had no answer for the Calder candidate.
I actually really liked the way Josi defended the rush, but once possession was established, all bets were off. It took everything that the duo had to keep the Islanders out of the slot, and clearly, it didn’t really work. The good news is that they received very little sheltering from their zone starts and escaped with no goals against. Although, it’s a little surprising they didn’t give up a goal in the first when Pekka Rinne wasn’t really feeling himself.
Ryan Ellis has come back into the line-up as an offensive dynamo but it’s clear he’s still finding his footing in the defensive zone. As he gets more adjusted, the better this duo will be, especially in the corners.
We’re using the same stats as Josi-Ellis, but take into account that Ekholm and Subban played just above 10 minutes. About five minutes less than Josi and Ellis, which is a sizable amount of time for one game.
In a word, yikes! The shutdown pair was anything but on Monday night. Despite sheltered zone starts, they lost their shot share, goals, and high danger chances. Heck, they were basically the Josi-Ellis pair minus the offense. Subban was on the ice for the game-tying goal and even got a primary assist for it, but with him and Ekholm on the ice, things didn’t go well.
I don’t want to blame Ekholm for it, but he stuck out like a sore thumb. He was losing puck battles left and right and never looked comfortable with the puck. His strength comes from his ability to outmaneuver the opposition in the corner and retrieve the puck. He’s also a wonderful breakout quarterback, whose main strength is the ability to make the first pass out of the zone. If you had only ever watched this game, you would call me a liar and ask how he’s a top-four defenseman on any team in the NHL. Bad games happen though, which is also describes what happened to Subban.
I love P.K. Subban. I’m one of his biggest supporters and one of his biggest apologists since Montreal. That said, this was not a Norris quality game. He did get better as the game went on but his first period was pretty bad, but that was a motif for the entire team. Subban’s defense of the Casey Cizikas‘s goal was pretty brutal, although Rinne didn’t really help, Subban shouldn’t have let Cizikas come to the middle. This was a forgettable game from a top pair in the NHL and while things will get better. It would be good to learn from this game.
Quite frankly, this line went up against John Tavares and didn’t do much to stop them. Their challenges at the blueline barely slowed the Islanders down, there was not much resembling a net-front presence, and the corners were a trainwreck. Let’s hope they regain their form, although Auston Matthews and the Leafs won’t be any easier.
Alexei Emelin and Yannick Weber are usually the worst players on the ice, but they were pretty much invisible on Monday. Which is a good thing! There’s nothing wrong with not making an impact when you’re on the third pair, that’s way better than the impact they usually make. Besides a dirty hit by Emelin in the first period, I don’t have much to complain about.
The good news is that they only gave up one high danger chance and won their shot share. They didn’t allow any goals together and had no sheltering as far as zone starts. They mostly played against the third and fourth line, but they handled their competition somewhat well.
This might’ve been the best pair on the Nashville Predators, which is a terrible thing. While they were the best, they weren’t perfect. They were terrible on the rush and couldn’t break the puck out to save their lives. That’s not totally fair, Weber could skate it out but he panicked whenever he hit the red line. He would then dump the puck and surrender possession almost immediately.
Other than that, the third pairing was fine.
The big picture
There’s a very good chance tonight is a one-off and the Islanders’ dynamic top six is totally responsible for these shortcomings.
I think everyone could tell that the Nashville Predators’ defense didn’t have a good game, but it’s important to look at the numbers to try to identify patterns. Plus it’s fun to look at the facts for the Predators as a whole. While they dominated shot shares, they lost the quality battle with 13 high danger chances for and 14 against. These details might be the key to adjusting strategy, which, quite frankly, could really help this team.
Anyways, the Predators won, and all is well, but things are far from perfect. I’m excited to see how the defense rebounds against an explosive Maple Leafs team.