Through five games for the Nashville Predators, it seems pretty clear that the following statements are true:
- the offense is as good (or better) than it has ever been
- the defense is as bad (or worse) than it has ever been
Let’s address these two facts, starting with the offense. The Preds have scored 23 goals in five games, by far the best stretch they’ve had in a long time. Possibly ever.
That’s 23 GF/21 GA in 5 games for the #Preds.
The real test will come against STL (can they score on that D) and COL (can they keep up on O), but the early returns are this is the same questionable defensive team but now with an offense that can score them out of trouble.
— Alex D-AHHH!-ugherty (@AlexDaugherty1) October 13, 2019
New forward Matt Duchene has been sensational early on, fueling the Preds’ best line with Filip Forsberg and Mikael Granlund. That line has the Preds’ best even strength shot attempt percentage (63.5% CF), best expected goals rate (62.5% xGF), and best high danger chance rater (78.9% HDCF). They’ve also accounted for 8 of the team’s 18 goals at even strength so far.
And the rest of the offense has been just fine. Ryan Johansen has 7 points in the first 5 games, which is a better pace than he had last season. Same with Roman Josi, who has a point in every game so far. Even the bottom six has been contributing, with Nick Bonino, Austin Watson, Colton Sissons, and Kyle Turris all scoring goals so far.
Right now the Preds have the top ranked offense in the league at 4.6 goals per game. I’m not sure it will stay in that position all season long, but there’s no reason to think it won’t be a top 10 offense all season long.
A change for the defense
Now to the defense, which has clearly been the Nashville Predators’ weakness so far.
Part of it has been less than stellar goaltending, as the Preds have an 88.2% save percentage at 5-on-5, which is 3rd worst in the NHL. Some of it has been some bad bounces. Some of it has been the penalty kill, which is not off to a good start at only 10 for 14 (71%).
Ultimately, the job of stopping the opposing attack falls on the defense and goaltending, both of which have struggled to get the job done so far. We know that Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros are likely going to return to a normal, effective level of performance after a couple bad outings early on. So that leaves the blueline.
Here’s one simple, temporary change that could help right the ship.
Dante Fabbro has struggled in his new role as full-time NHL defenseman. He still has the skills to lock down that spot, but he’s just not thinking the game fast enough right now. He looks quite overwhelmed when the opponent puts pressure in the Preds’ zone. With him on the ice, the Preds have allowed a team high 12 high danger chances and a team high 3 high danger goals.
Dante Fabbro and his rank on the #Preds in the following on-ice categories:
Shot attempts allowed (CA): 19th
Expected goals allowed (xGA): 18th
Scoring chances allowed (SCA): 20th (last)
High danger attempts allowed (HDCA): 20th
High danger goals allowed (HDGA): t-17th (last)
— Alex D-AHHH!-ugherty (@AlexDaugherty1) October 14, 2019
When you look at the rate of his performance, Fabbro hasn’t been all that bad. But getting a ton of heavy defensive assignments with partner Mattias Ekholm has him swimming over his head right now.
How about a trip to Milwaukee to get his confidence back? I’m talking just for a week or two.
If you do that, you will have to recall someone. The most obvious candidate would be Steven Santini, the defenseman the Preds got in the P.K. Subban trade, but he is certainly not the answer to the question “how do you make the defense better?” If the Preds really want to change things up, they’ll go with Frederic Allard or Alexandre Carrier, both of whom have better skills than Santini. And Allard has the wheels to keep up with NHL skating, so I’d go with him.
With Fabbro on a “get your head right” vacation in Milwaukee, the Preds’ defense would need a few lineup changes to account for handedness and balance of play. Maybe something like this:
Roman Josi – Yannick Weber
Mattias Ekholm – Ryan Ellis
Dan Hamhuis – Frederic Allard
Like I said, this would only be temporary. However long it takes for Fabbro to get his head right and then return to the Nashville Predators with some confidence.
And once this team’s defense starts playing like we know it should? Look out.
Quote of the Week
“We both thought that we were going to win the game, we just had that feeling.”
-Matt Duchene, on his conversation in the 2nd intermission with Ryan Johansen during the Nashville Predators’ 5-4 win over the Washington Capitals.
GIF Me That Good Stuff
I’m still not sure why Forsberg went with this celly, but I’m here for it.
Filip Forsberg with the follow through celebration. Love it. #Preds
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) October 11, 2019
Let’s Do That Hockey
- Tuesday October 15th @ Vegas Golden Knights (9:00 PM; FS-TN)
- Thursday October 17th @ Arizona Coyotes (9:00 PM; FS-TN)
- Saturday October 19th vs Florida Panthers (7:00 PM; FS-TN)
As I mentioned in the tweet above, the real test for this Predators team will come when they finally face tough opponents in the Central Division.
I’m talking about the St. Louis Blues and the Colorado Avalanche.
If the Preds offense keeps up the good work, they will face real challenges with the Blues and Avalanche, albeit for very different reasons. The Blues defense is probably the best in the NHL and very confident in coming off a remarkable Stanley Cup run. The Avs offense is dangerous not just because of their top line with Nathan Mackinnon, but because of their burgeoning depth at forward and on defense.
Unfortunately, we have to wait til November to see how these teams matchup on the ice. The Preds take on the Avs for the first time on November 7th, then the Blues for the first time on November 23rd. After that, most of the matchups aren’t until February and March.
If the Nashville Predators are going to make real noise in the Central Division, they will need good results against the Blues and Avs next month.
— Stats via Natural Stat Trick. Featured image via Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports —