The early season start for the Nashville Predators is great, but their toughest test comes tonight as the San Jose Sharks circle in Bridgestone Arena.
“You are what your records says you are.” Thus says NFL Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells. And, according to their record, the Nashville Predators are the best team in the NHL. They are the only team in the league with one loss. Both Tampa Bay and Colorado have one loss in regulation but have at least one overtime defeat.
If you break down their record, three of the Predators’ victories came against teams with sub-.500. At least, they have such records now. Still, the wins over Winnipeg, Minnesota, and Calgary are impressive. But, the road will only get more difficult. That is certainly the case tonight.
If you want to point to an example to argue against Parcells’ quote, look no further than the San Jose Sharks. Picked by many to be the Stanley Cup representative from the Western Conference, the Sharks’ record is rather mediocre. Currently, they sit fourth in the Pacific Division, with a 4-3-1 record. But, their stats tell a completely different story.
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The Sharks are the best team during 5v5 action in the league. They boast a CorsiFor/60 of 77.21, and a CorsiFor% of 61.86, according to Corsica Hockey. San Jose also holds a 3.62 expected goals for per 60 minutes, over a half-point better than the next team. Yet, expectations are not reality, and the Sharks’ results are evident of this. Even those they are gaining far more shots than opponents, San Jose is 17th in the league with a 2.52 goals for per 60 average. They all 2.02 goals per 60.
More stats show the Sharks are better than their record. They are third in the NHL with 98 high-danger changes, and second in high-danger percentage (HDCF/HDCF+HDCA) at 65%. These 98 chances brought only 10 goals.
The issue for the Sharks is their goaltending. Opponents have tallied 8 goals in 53 high-danger chances. This give the Sharks an .805 save percentage during these moments. Of the 28 goalies who played 200 minutes or more, Martin Jones has the second lowest save percentage (.902). He does well with low-danger chances, but his .727 rating at high-danger is, well, terrible.
Plan of attack
The Nashville Predators are no stranger to being out-shot during games. They have been in half their games. What the Predators can’t allow is for the Sharks to circle in their offensive zone for extended amounts of time. Nashville has done a good job of getting sticks in the way of pucks and blocking shots. They then turn these deflections into offense. The top-four defensemen must keep their positioning and not allow the Sharks to find open ice. Find ways to exit the defensive zone other than clearing the puck would be nice as well.
This is a game when the top two lines of forwards must push the action. Kyle Turris, Craig Smith, and Kevin Fiala are great in gaining high-danger chances, but need to convert against Jones tonight. The trio has 18 HDCF when on the ice together, but only 1 goal to their credit. They also start in the offensive zone 85% of the time at 5v5. Pucks must find the back of the net when they are on the ice.
Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, and Viktor Arvidsson have four high-danger goals this season in 22 chances together. That is two-thirds of this lines goals on the season. Coach Peter Laviolette will likely deploy the JoFA line against Evander Kane, Joe Pavelski, and Kevin Lebanc. The Sharks’ top line accounts for 17 points on the season, including 9 goals. But, their second line appears more potent offensively, with 21 points on the season.
Juuse Saros will have to tough task keeping the puck out of net. Absorbing the puck and not allowing rebounds will be crucial. Will the defense in front of him help keep him clean? One can hope.
Regardless of their record, the San Jose Sharks are a lethal team. But, the Nashville Predators are playing like a complete team right now. A win tonight will only heighten expectations this early in the season.