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Here’s What Worked: Preds @ Avs

A glance at what worked for the Preds against the Avalanche on Tuesday night.

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s unpack last night’s 5-1 Predators win over the Avalanche a little bit.

Sure, it’s only one win, and it’s only the 9th game of the season, but we haven’t had many opportunities to properly dissect a Predators win yet this season. The win over the Blackhawks was immediately followed up with a loss in Chicago over opening weekend and the win over the Penguins was with a make-shift lineup featuring a host of Milwaukee Admirals.

So... why not... let’s do this.

Here’s what worked last night.

The top forward line was great

Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, and James Neal each had two points on the night, with each playing around 18 minutes. In addition to accounting for most of the goals on the board, they also had productive nights overall.

Collectively, the top line...

  • had 8 shots shots on goal
  • won 8 of 14 faceoffs
  • had 4 hits
  • only turned the puck over once
  • committed only one penalty

They also played very well against Colorado’s top defensive pairing, which on this night was Erik Johnson and Nikita Zadorov. Here’s the matchup breakdown from HockeyViz with Forsberg, Neal, and Johansen circled:

The redder the square, the better possession numbers for the red team, in this case the Predators. The more opaque the square, the more shot attempts per sixty minutes. The larger the square, the more ice time. So of all the forward-defense matchups on the board, this one most favored the Preds.

Pekka Rinne thrived in relative comfort

So far this year, Rinne has been an above average goalie in most situations—it’s the high danger situations where things have come apart. The Preds have been dead last in high danger save percentage for the first eight games of the year, despite being generally a good team at preventing high danger shot attempts.

The previous three games in California saw the Predators allow an average of 11.3 high danger shot attempts per game, in all situations: 11 against the Ducks, 14 against the Kings, and 9 against the Sharks.

Last night, the Preds only allowed 5 high danger shot attempts in all situations.

Rinne had to make 28 relatively comfortable saves on the evening, only giving up a rebound goal to Jarome Iginla. The Predators did a great job of staying back and keeping most shots to the outside.

Colorado is not a particularly fast team, which helped, but they still have guys like Nathan Mackinnon and Matt Duchene who can create dangerous situations all on their own. Mackinnon had one high danger attempt, Duchene had zero.

Matt Irwin & Yannick Weber played well!

We can talk about their deployment, quality of competition, and ice time if you want, but those two played very well as a third defensive pairing. Here are the score adjusted shots for/against for each team, courtesy of HockeyViz:

These are score adjusted (meaning they are weighted against averages for how teams usually perform when down a goal, tied, up a goal, etc.), but their raw possession numbers are just as impressive:

  • Weber: 17 CF, 3 CA, 85.0% CF in 10:55 5v5 TOI
  • Irwin: 15 CF, 2 CA, 88.2% CF in 10:37 5v5 TOI

Generating that many shot attempts in just over 10 minutes of ice time is pretty impressive.

Numbers aside, the Weber-Irwin pairing definitely passed the “eye test” as well. They had great chemistry all night and helped each other when needed. Individually, Weber has looked better every game, using his speed and puck handling to keep the puck in the offensive zone. Irwin looks comfortable when passing in the neutral and defensive zones and his shot looks about as smooth as any bottom pairing defenseman’s could be.

Let’s hope this is a sign of what’s to come. No other bottom pairing for the Preds has looked as dangerous as those two were last night, now they just need to keep it up.