We'll put our optimistic hats on next week, provided we can find them. The Predators have done some amazing things this season, and we should really remember that as the regular season comes to an end.
But Jiminy tap dancing Crickets do things look bleak right now.
Since punching their postseason ticket 13 days ago, (feels so much longer) Nashville has lost all five of their following games; in spectacular fashion or worse. But the snowball has been rolling down the hill well before then. I'll let the talented gentlemen in Nashville's press box weave a story:
On February 24th, Nashville led St. Louis by 9 points in the Central Division. 44 days later, the Blues crown themselves division champ.— Kristopher Martel (@kmartel_sports) April 10, 2015
Nashville went 6-11-3 in that span. My goodness that’s just three shades of awful to finish the season— Kristopher Martel (@kmartel_sports) April 10, 2015
Since that Feb. 26 date, the Predators are 6-11-3 and are 0-3-2 since clinching a playoff spot.— Adam Vingan (@AdamVingan) April 10, 2015
It is truly remarkable to think about how far this #Preds team has fallen in a 6 week span.— Robby Stanley (@RStanley247) April 10, 2015
There was a point not long ago in which I thought the Preds would end up with 5 individual awards. Now I won’t be shocked if they get none.— Jim Diamond (@diamondhockey) April 10, 2015
The fall from grace is absolutely astounding. Sure, the Predators may have been playing a bit above their potential earlier in the year, but they shouldn't be this bad. Coughing up leads, collapsing under pressure, making little mistakes they can't recover from, it all points to tee-time earlier than anyone would have imagined just a few months ago.
On the surface, things look terrible, horrible, no good and very bad. But what if we open the hood and poke around? Let's use that February 24th date as a starting point, and hone in on the numbers since then.
Over the course of the season, Nashville has been one of the best possession teams in the league. As we all know, that's one of the best ways to predict future success. It doesn't mean future success, but teams that control the flow of play are going to have a better time than teams that are constantly chasing the puck and being shelled by rubber.
Overall for the season, the Predators are 7th best score adjusted team in the league. Since our cutoff date? 7th in the league as well. They fire 29.9 shots per 60 minutes actually on net, which is 10th in the league, and are (surprise) 7th in the league when it comes to suppressing shots. An average of only 26.2 pucks hit the good guy in goal over the course of 60 5v5 minutes.
That doesn't look so bad.
Until you realize that Nashville is sporting an even-strength goal differential of zero in those 21 games. They've given up just as many goals as they've scored, and if you adjust for all situations they are -12. (Remember, Preds aren't great at special teams.) Are they not getting bounces? Their shooting percentage is 7.4%, smack in the middle of the NHL, so they are neither benefitting or suffering in that regard.
Much of the blame lies between the pipes. Pekka Rinne is just not making the saves he needs to make. The Predators' on ice save percentage in our timeframe is .915%, 25th in the league, and Rinne is sporting a .916 even-strength Sv%. Contrast that with his to-date season mark of .936.
Saves can be broken down into three categories: low, medium and high danger. A shot has a different chance of going in depending on where it's fired from. Rinne's high danger save percentage is a little lower in our time frame than his season numbers, but the drop in medium danger situations is quite worrisome. Overall, he has a 92.52 Sv%M, but that has dropped to a horrifying 87.5 Sv%M in our sample. An unbelievable five point difference. If that's result of a nagging injury, that's not good news. If not... well, it still isn't good news.
The Losing Streak
The Losing Streak
The offense isn't making up for that drop in play, either. Nashville has only scored three or more goals four times in our 21 game sample. Among forwards, Mike Fisher paces the team with six tallies on his own. Craig Smith and Filip Forsberg follow behind him with five each. So the Preds get 16 goals from three players while the other 11 (we won't count Kevin Fiala or Viktor Arvidsson) have combined for 19. Compare that with six defenseman that have combined for 15 goals. However, given where their shooting percentage is (as opposed to being relatively high earlier) don't count on goals all of a sudden coming. The goaltending has to improve.
Yet a bigger problem persists. In eight of those games, the team let a lead burst into flames in some way or another. Games against New York Islanders, Detroit, Anaheim and Minnesota all disintegrated in the third period. Each of the last four games have been similar, leads are gained then disastrously lost, and the team can't recover.
Ultimately what is wrong with this team may not be able to be quantified. They are playing like a team that should be winning hockey games, which makes the last several weeks so infuriating. A bad period here, two or three terrible shifts there, all of a sudden the score on the board falls out of favor of the guys in gold, and they can't recover from it.
The feeling sorry for themselves and the "here we go again" mentality has to end now. It just does. Rinne has to be better. The team has to be better. The good news is the exciting, fun-to-watch Predators we all got so accustomed to seeing early this season are still in there somewhere. The bad news is they are being overshadowed by mental mistakes and the inability to hold a lead.
Their record resets to zero next week, and whatever a team has done ahead of Game 1 doesn't matter. But the players in the Nashville locker room have a lot of soul searching to do between now and then. If they don't focus on playing 60 minutes instead of 50, 55 or 58, it's going to be a long summer of what ifs.
*All stats gathered from War on Ice