The Nashville Predators faced an offensive powerhouse last night in Brooklyn. The Islanders attacked early and often, but the visitors refused to quit.
I’ll admit – at no point between the start of the second period and 19:17 in the third did I believe the Nashville Predators would win this game. In the first period, Pekka Rinne and the defense looked shaky at best. What’s more, Jaroslav Halak looked capable of saving everything Nashville could throw at him. Throughout the entire game, Nashville led on the scoreboard for a whopping 38 seconds.
The Islanders embarrassed the Predators at Bridgestone Arena earlier this year. The majority of this game set up for a similar result.
In the end, the Nashville Predators found another way to prove their contender status.
The Islanders poured on the goals early on throughout a penalty-ridden first period. The Predators regressed back a couple of months in terms of taking penalties. Mattias Ekholm showcased the only negative aspect of his play – ill-advised penalties. Alexei Emelin further taunted the Department of Player Safety with his second dangerous hit in two games. This time, the referees thought it earned a minor penalty.
Rinne didn’t play quite as badly in the first as it seemed. The Islanders’ first goal, a backdoor tap-in from John Tavares, highlighted a recurring theme for the Predators’ defense: weak defending in the slot. The second goal was essentially on Rinne, and he’d be the first to admit it.
On New York’s third goal, P.K. Subban entirely misread Casey Cizikas, leaving a wide-open path to the net. Yes, Rinne probably should have stayed planted on the near post, but it was more of a defensive breakdown sprinkled with bad timing.
Nashville’s second line singlehandedly kept the game close in the first, with Kevin Fiala tallying both scores.
Nashville’s power play and penalty kill both appeared questionable throughout the game. This is reflected in the game flow. The Predators really piled on the shot attempts in the third period, which featured no penalties and very few stoppages in general.
In a six-on-five situation, a team needs individuals to step up and take control. Nashville had trouble establishing the zone, as usual, with their net empty. Once they did, however, Ryan Johansen answered the call. He has been quietly putting up solid possession numbers throughout the year. You can see in his celebration for the equalizer, he desperately wants to carry that performance over onto the score sheet.
Hundreds of factors go into determining whether a hockey team is truly competitive. Among the most important items on that list, though, is a team’s depth. Yes, star players need to control the game and step up in important moments. Nothing compares, though, to getting production from a team’s bottom six forwards or third defensive pairing.
In the playoffs, this is particularly important. In a deep postseason run, injuries are an inevitability. Additionally, because of the best-of-seven situation of each round, opponents will usually figure out a system for defending star players. Depth is a near-necessity for a team to be considered a Cup contender.
Fortunately for the Nashville Predators, depth is far from an issue. This fact was on display last night in Brooklyn. In terms of producing shot attempts while suppressing those from the Islanders, five players stuck out.
Here’s a look at their performances, in terms of unblocked shot attempt percentage (FF%), high-danger scoring chance percentage (HDCF%), and defensive zone start percentage (dZS%):
Each of these players, who are not exactly superstars of this team, put up very solid possession numbers. The Nashville Predators produced the majority of the unblocked shot attempts with each on the ice. Miikka Salomaki and Austin Watson did not contribute to any high-danger chances, but didn’t allow a single one either. Not bad for a couple of fourth line forwards.
Salomaki and Watson also did not take a single faceoff in the offensive zone. They were forced to defend the entire game, and did so admirably.
Depth is absolutely one of the Nashville Predators’ strengths. Assuming this team is playoff-bound, this asset will be incredibly valuable indeed.
Hitting the road
The Predators still need to get it done on the road. Their next three games represent the eastern Canada road trip, including a tough back-to-back in Ontario. The Maple Leafs are righting the ship after a shaky January, and have the speed to tear defenses apart. This should be a similar game to the matchup against Tampa Bay earlier, though hopefully with a different outcome.
Nashville got a sneak peek of a dominant offensive team last night in Brooklyn. There were several moments where things broke down, but they have the ability to correct those mistakes and improve overall.
The thrilling overtime win against the Islanders may not have been the prettiest win by the Nashville Predators this season. That said, it was among the most impressive.