If you look at only their win loss record, the Nashville Predators are off to a poor start. They are 2-4-0, sitting in 6th place in the Central Division, managing only four points in six games.
The Preds had a bad loss to Seattle on opening night, handing the Kraken their first ever win as an expansion team (in their second ever game). They played well two days later against Carolina, but lost 3-2. They beat the Kings for their first win in Viktor Arvidsson’s return to Bridgestone, then reeled off two stinkers against the Rangers and Jets.
Then on Sunday night, the Preds steamrolled 5-2 over the Wild in Connor Ingram’s first ever NHL start.
— Alex Daugherty (@AlexDaugherty1) October 25, 2021
If it weren’t for the Chicago Blackhawks’ historically bad start and the Arizona Coyotes going through their 8th rebuild in the last eight years, the Preds would find themselves in last place in the division.
And in the overall league standings, the Preds sit at 25th.
Ultimately, win loss record is all that really matters. Points in the standings make or break your season. No other measurement of a hockey team impacts a season more than wins and losses.
But if you look at 3-4 other key metrics, it hasn’t been as bad as all that. No, the Preds aren’t a “good hockey team” but they might be better than their record suggests.
Preds’ offensive analytics look ok
Two of the best predictors of a team’s ability to score goals is how often they generate two key metrics: shot attempts and expected goals. Natural Stat Trick tracks these statistics along with many others.
Shot attempts (as measured by Corsi For per sixty minutes or CF/60) are what they sound like: a player making an attempt to score. A shot attempt always ends up in either a goal, save, miss, or a blocked shot. Obviously, the higher your CF/60 number is, the better.
The Preds are currently 17th in the NHL in CF/60, generating 55.1 shot attempts per sixty minutes. Almost exactly in the middle of the league. Not great, not terrible. Just in the middle.
Expected goals (measured by expected goals per sixty minutes or xGF/60) are a more advanced predictor of scoring goals. Essentially it factors in shot distance, type, and angle into the mix, giving an estimate of how likely a shot will lead to a goal given the context of the play.
The Preds are 14th in the NHL in xGF/60, generating 2.47 expected goals per sixty minutes. A top 15 team in expected goals! Not too shabby, especially considering last year the Preds finished 24th in that category with only 2.20 expected goals per sixty minutes.
The biggest problem for the Preds is they aren’t generating a lot of high danger chances. They rank 31st in the league in that category at 8.2 HDCF/60. That has to change.
Overall, though, the Preds seem to be doing something right offensively. Being an average or even slightly above average team on offense suggests they are better than a sub .500 team the rest of the way.
And add to that who is doing the scoring for the Preds:
Goal scoring has been a slight issue for the #Preds so far. They rank 15th in the league in goals per game at 2.83.
But the good news is that these are the exact 5 players you want to see leading the way for Nashville. pic.twitter.com/FgufylVIG9
— Alex Daugherty (@AlexDaugherty1) October 25, 2021
If those five players continue to produce for the Nashville Predators, and if key role players like Tanner Jeannot and Colton Sissons continue their nice start as well, you can expect this team to be pushing for the playoffs.
Preds’ blueline in flux, but holding steady
John Hynes has been shuffling his blueline around nightly, especially on the bottom pair. While Roman Josi, Alex Carrier, Dante Fabbro, and Mattias Ekholm are locked into the top four, the bottom pairing has been several combinations of Matt Benning, Mark Borowiecki, Ben Harpur, and Philippe Myers.
Honestly? I have no idea which combination of those four players works best. My instinct says Benning and Myers, but none of them have been very good so far. I think it’s clear Ben Harpur still doesn’t belong, but he keeps getting ice time anyway.
Despite the transitory nature of this defense, the Preds have been able to manage a steady, if sometimes leaky, defensive setup in the first six games.
The Preds rank 7th in shot attempts allowed per sixty minutes at 51.6 CA/60. Top ten in the league in that department will carry you a long way.
But they do need to improve the quality of shots they allow. They rank 21st in expected goals allowed per sixty minutes at 2.66 xGF/60. But that’s probably mostly on volume of shots as they still do a good job limiting chances in their own high danger area: they rank 7th in HDCA/60.
My instinct is that Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm are carrying the bulk of the defensive effort. Looking at this “with or without you” impact chart from Hockey Viz, that is correct:
I generally dislike posting analytics out of context, especially if it belies a player’s eye test, and especially if that player brings something else to the team that statistics do not easily convey…
But this is spot on for Ben Harpur.
— Alex Daugherty (@AlexDaugherty1) October 26, 2021
Special teams are… good now??
Ok that might be a bit of a stretch.
But the Preds do seem to be better on special teams, especially the power play.
Through six games, the Preds’ power play has six power play goals in 21 opportunities. That’s a 28.6% success rate, which is good for 7th in the NHL right now.
Last year it took 10 games and 40 power play opportunities for the Preds to get six power play goals.
Improvement on the power play? For the Nashville Predators?
Is that even possible?
The penalty kill hasn’t been as effective, but it has seen improvement from last year. The 2020-21 Preds finished the league 29th in penalty kill efficiency with a paltry 75.6% success rate. This year they are 19th in efficiency with a survivable 80.0% success rate.
Still not great, but not downright awful.
Preds are better than 2-4-0 record
As I mentioned before, no statistic matters more than wins. If the Preds don’t win more games, they aren’t a good team and won’t make the playoffs. That’s just the facts.
But the underlying metrics suggest this team might be better than its record suggests. And if they keep that up, the wins will come.
There’s already a lot to like about what the Nashville Predators are doing this year. A “competitive rebuild” sounds silly but it seems more interesting than whatever the Buffalo Sabres, Arizona Coyotes, and Ottawa Senators are doing.
Hopefully the Preds see a lot more “competitive” than “rebuild” in the coming weeks.
— Featured image via Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY Sports —