After ten games, I took a look at the issues leading to the Predators less than ideal start to the season. Now, at the the quarter pole, the team appears to be trending in the right direction. There are several factors going into this improvement, however, there’s one major problem that continues to hold them back.
Josi picks up the pace
After ten games, Roman Josi was on pace for 8 goals and 41 assists, a far cry from the 23 goals and 73 assists of his runner-up-finish-in-Norris-Trophy-voting campaign last season. Since then, Josi has improved his pace to 19 goals and 47 assists. While, that’s not exactly the pace of last season, he’s certainly returning to a level that most would reasonably expect from one of the league’s premier defenders.
John Hynes has joked before that they should change the name of the game from Hockey to “Goalie” because that how important goaltenders are to the success of any team at the NHL level. He’s not wrong. After the first ten games of the season, Juuse Saros looked like a shell of the goaltender who placed 3rd in voting for the Vezina Trophy the season before. His 8 appearances during the first ten games yielded a 2-5-1 record and a save percentage of only .894 compared to the previous season’s .918. (For reference, David Rittich carried a .886 last season.)
Since then, things have been quite different. Saros started 8 of the last 11 games and has a record of 6-1-1 to show for it. As it stands, his overall save percentage has hit .910 and over the last five games, he’s carrying a .926. The only negative mark would be the lone regulation loss in which Saros was pulled after giving up an early lead to Seattle. However, that performance was the exception, not the rule.
The defense has also undergone a slight change that has yielded significant results. Since the Predators traded for Ryan McDonagh over the summer, John Hynes has been working to figure out how to calibrate a defense that has three top-4 defenders that play on the left side. After moving Ekholm to the right side on a pair with McDonagh wasn’t proving successful, Hynes moved Josi to the right side and paired him with McDonagh on the first line. This move allows McDonagh to play on his natural side, while Josi plays on the right side. However, Josi is going to do what Josi does best and to a large extent, the side of the ice he’s assigned to doesn’t matter quite as much. This also allows McDonagh to play the role of the steady defender he’s thrived in for most of his career. Since the change, both players have looked considerably better. Josi’s numbers (see above) have improved dramatically and McDonagh looks increasingly comfortable defending for his new team.
This also has brought some harmony to the second and third pairs. As a result, the defense has solidified and has taken a lot of pressure off of Saros and allowed him to get back to the game he’s used to playing (see above).
Underperformance on the top lines
After the first ten games of the season, I noted how the highest paid members of the team had fallen victim to the “regression monster”. Matt Duchene and Filip Forsberg were coming back to Earth after record breaking seasons, Mikael Granlund was producing at slower rate, and Roman Josi was woefully behind his pace from last season. The lone outlier was Ryan Johansen, who was on track for a great season. While Roman Josi has since drastically improved and Mikael Granlund has maintained his previous pace, Duchene, Forsberg, and Johansen’s projected numbers have dropped even lower.
After ten games, Matt Duchene was on pace for 16G-57A. After 21 games, he’s on pace for 19G-47A. While his goal total may be higher, his assists have dropped significantly. This may be largely in part to his recent movement throughout the line up, playing away from Filip Forsberg and Mikael Granlund. (although he had a really nasty assist on this Colton Sissons goal the other night)
Colton Sissons: Duck Hunter pic.twitter.com/rhX54cmONw— Nashville Predators (@PredsNHL) November 30, 2022
Filip Forsberg has experienced much of the same thing. After 10 games, he was on pace for 25G-57A. After 21, he’s on pace for 27G-47A. Like Duchene, he’s increased his goal pace, but his assists have taken a dramatic drop. This, too, may be due to Matt Duchene’s movement throughout the line up. Based on last season’s results, it’s hard to make an argument that these two players don’t play exceptionally well together.
Ryan Johansen, who had an incredible season (though largely unnoticed) in 21-22, has had the most shocking drop. After 10 games this season, he was on pace for 33G-16A. After 21, he was on pace for 19G-23A. While his assist numbers moved up a bit, his goal projections dropped off of a cliff. His season started off hot, playing with Nino Niederreiter, but the duo have continued to play musical chairs with their left winger. At this point, if someone can stick to that spot, it should help the two get into a good flow as a line instead of just as a pair.
At the quarter pole, the Predators are improving; they’re playing good hockey. They’re playing better hockey than they were at the beginning of the season. Continuing to play this way should allow them to squeak into the playoffs. However, if they’re going to stand a chance at making any waves in the playoffs, good isn’t good enough. Roman Josi and Juuse Saros alone can’t drag the rest of the team to greatness. The rest of the top-paid players will have to show why they get paid as much as they do if they want to make a run.
-featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports-