What is this strange feeling we all have? Excitement? Hope? Maybe even a tinge of happiness?
The team is playing extremely well right now, and way above the expectations anyone had for them to start the season. Here we are in mid November, and their hot start seems less like a fluke and more of their style of play. There's still a lot of time to go, and plenty of rough opponents along the way (more on that below), so let's dive into this Q&A's questions about the good times, and any concerns you have about them...
Jon: Welcome to what's known as "score effects." Generally, when a team gets a lead (especially a big one) they are comfortable sitting back more than they would if the game was tighter. Conversely, the trailing team presses harder to get another goal. This is why we have "score adjusted" possession metrics, or 5v5 close, which tracks 5v5 shot attempts when the game is within one goal in the first two periods, or tied during the third. If you can control majority of the play during those situations, you're a good team.
Now, Edmonton did get back into the game, and was playing well enough to make Predators fans nervous. It happens, especially with a score that lopsided. However, if we look at Nashville's overall Fenwick % at 5v5 close, we'll find our answer on whether that's sustainable or not.
Fenwick is the total amount of shot attempts taken by a team, not including blocked shots, and is a great predictor for future success. Right now, the Predators are 8th in the league in 5v5 FF%. That means that of all the unblocked shot attempts the Preds are on the ice for, over 52% of them are going toward the opposing net. That's good, as elite teams fall around 54-55%. The seven teams higher right now? New York Islanders, Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Minnesota. That's some good company.
So don't be nervous, the Preds are doing what they need to do to win games.
George: As effective as this system has been, we still don't have Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin. Not every game is going to be a 5-1 or 6-3 pasting. It is becoming clear, however, that James Neal doesn't need Evgeni Malkin to be a scoring powerhouse. I hope he keeps it up.
Braden: I think the important thing to remember with game like the one the other night is that scoring isn't distributed evenly. Nashville got off to a great start, but it was unsustainable. The Oilers were bound to push back. Jon already brought up score effects so I won't cover that much, but that's essentially what you saw the other night. I would worry if they start losing one goal games more often, but even then, I don't think there's much predictive value to one goal wins or losses over the short run.
Jon: No offense to Pekka or Shea, but both of them have been nominated for those awards before. As great as it would be for either of them to win, having the Calder winning reside in Nashville would be a huge boon for the organization. It would also reinforce the face that fans have a legitimate superstar for the first time in... um, ever. So I'd have to pick Forsberg winning Rookie of the Year would be the best thing for the organization in some time. (As long as he doesn't go the Steve Mason route.)
George: Weber has been snubbed so many times, most unjustly in the year Erik Karlsson won for...scoring goals? Because that's what makes a defenseman best at his position, you know... I think Weber winning the Norris is far more important than either Rinne winning the Vezina (he's back from injury, and he needs to focus more on sustaining his health and returning to form than winning a trophy), or Forsberg winning the Calder.
The PHWA and league need to recognize Weber as the best defenseman in the league, once and for all, while he's in his prime. That helps continue to signal to other potential free agents that Nashville should be on their list of destination franchises. The Calder Trophy means little and certainly less than that. Oh, you had a good rookie year? Great, see me when you're thirty, bro, and we'll see how good you are. Absent a Blake Geoffrion-style career-ending injury, #PrinceFilip has plenty of time to win league hardware, and I'd rather see him with the Hart, the Art Ross, or the Rocket Richard a few years from now than the Calder.
(For a Preds-specific reference to the meaninglessness of the Calder Trophy, Jason Arnott was first runner-up for the Calder in 1993-1994, but only broke the 30-goal mark twice, and the 60-point mark twice. He did win a Stanley Cup in New Jersey, but that had more to do with the team playing around him, the coach behind the bench, and the unbeatable Martin Brodeur between the pipes.) What a player does in their rookie year means little in consideration of their entire career.
Braden: Forsberg winning the Calder would be the best option for the future of the organization. Rinne and Weber winning those awards wouldn't mean much. We know they are elite players. Further, the difference from a Vezina goalie and a goalie a step below Vezina winner is, at worst, 10-15 goals over 1000 shots. Having a Calder winner means (hopefully) further progress for the future and a long-term scorer who hasn't reached his prime yet, something Nashville hasn't really ever had. Not to mention, the aspect of Forsberg's play that I find most impressive is his back pressure. That's more impressive than his unsustainable 15.6% shooting percentage (as of 11.12.14).
Morgan M and others: Where does Fisher fit in when he returns? 2nd or 3rd line center? Who gets traded? What about the chemistry?
Jon: Mike Fisher should start on the third line, with Jokinen and Colin Wilson, and see how that progresses. Jokinen hasn't done much this year, but it's not for lack of trying. He probably just needs another Big Mac. If he isn't going, Taylor Beck has showed he's competent enough to play there.
We saw a bunch of line juggling last night, though. Part of that is most likely because secondary scoring has been virtually non-existent the entire year. Fisher has always been a reliable scorer, and put up plenty of points during his time in Nashville. The Preds don't need him to be THE guy, but the will need him to contribute. Hopefully he can be the power up they need.
George: I know I'd certainly like to see Viktor Stalberg traded, but David Poile is going to have to eat some of that ridiculous contract in order to make it happen. Mike Fisher will probably be a 3C, and Olli Jokinen and Paul Gaustad will rotate on the fourth line pivot. In fact, at right around $1 million this season, Poile could probably waive Jokinen and take less of a hit than he would probably have to take trading someone else with a bad contract.
Braden: I would like to see Fisher on the third line. He has been a stable forward for Nashville, but he is way past his prime and Nashville's top 6 are too fast for him to keep up. I would move Jokinen down to the fourth line as he has been mediocre at best so far. As far as chemistry goes, I wouldn't worry about that so much. These are all professional players who obviously know how to play the sport. Good players will play well with other good players.
Joel P: Long term, should we have any concerns about our depth scoring? Still waiting for a few to get on the scoresheet.
Jon: See above point. Given how massively dominating the Neal, Ribeiro, Forsberg (NeRF?) line has been, there hasn't really been a need for it most of the season. Of course, those three can't score at the pace they're on forever. Wilson should have way more points than he does right now. If he can be put on a line without snakebitten line mates, he should get going and get them going in turn. It's not time to freak about secondary scoring yet, but it should be at the front of everyone's minds.
George: What depth scoring? David Poile built the majority of this roster with Barry Trotz's system in mind, so I suppose it depends what you mean by "long term." Will it be this way forever? No. We have a new head coach who'll make a significant imprint on future draft strategies and current trade strategies. Guys who don't fit in, evolve toward, or adapt to Laviolette's system won't play, plain and simple.
Braden: It's clear the current system is focusing on scoring more than the last one, as the Rich Clune demotion indicated. If we define long term as the next few years, I'm not too worried. Players like Forsberg and Fiala have potential to be top line players in the NHL, with Forsberg showing he's already capable of that. Jarnkrok may turn out to be a good defensive third line center who may not be the best scorer, but that doesn't mean the depth isn't there for scoring.
The defensemen on this team can also provide some scoring especially as players like Jones and Ellis continue to improve. If long term scoring is really an issue, the Predators should look to the draft and prospects rather than continuing to acquire veterans like Neal. He's a tremendous talent, but the upsides of players Forsberg and Fiala are much more valuable for long term stability.
Jason B: Who is the first call-up from Milwaukee if we happen to need one?
Jon: Really, it depends on what the team needs. If we're going by merit and scores alone, Brandon Leipsic leads the team with 11 points, all assists. Viktor Arvidsson (4G, 4A) and Austin Watson (5G, 3A) are tied behind him. Either of them could be an option.
George: Rich Clune. He's making close to $1 million this season on a one-way contract, and I know owners don't like having to pay a guy that much to play in the AHL.
Braden: I don't know too much about the prospects in Milwaukee, but I would think Viktor Arvidsson or Brandon Leipsic would make a lot of sense. About half of Nashville's roster can play center so wingers probably have the best shot at making the big club. Arvidsson and Leipsic are both having decent years so far and are two of the more promising prospects in Milwaukee at the moment.
Philip W: Which upcoming month (Dec-March) do you feel will be the toughest month?
Jon: January may have the hardest competition, (LA, Anaheim, Minnesota, Vancouver, Washington, Detroit, Montreal...) but December has a bunch of toughies on the road. Those two months are going to be the make-or-break point of the season.
George: I think December or January will be toughest. They play 8 of 13 and 7 of 12 on the road in those months, respectively. Anything could happen, though, so I'll also slot in option (c) here, "any month in which the team contracts Ebola."
Braden: I think at this point, December looks the toughest. They play each of Chicago, Boston, and St. Louis twice as well as match ups with Minnesota and San Jose on the road. The only easy(ish) home matchup that month is against Philadelphia.
Ben Smith (@bcsmith317) November 12, 2014
Jon: Comcast's internet services is still a joke, so there's never enough bad things that can be said about them.
George: Colin Wilson. Always Colin Wilson.
Braden: I'm going to counter George on this one and say you can argue that you can't argue about Wilson. So far at 5on5 he has a FenwickFor% of 59.17 and a Fenwick Rel% of 9.76. He's playing well and the points will come if he keeps up this play...If anything, you can complain that I am also a Chicago fan. You will always have that.