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A Look At How The Nashville Predators Are Scoring

Shot quality matters.

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There has been a lot of ink spilled on goalie performance and how to rate the quality of shots the goalie faces. I wrote about some of them when discussing Pekka Rinne on the eve of the season.

Ryan Stimson who goes by @RK_Stimp on twitter developed a pretty unique look at offensive production over the summer. He’s taken it down for now to refine it, but the lengthy examination of offensive play sparked some interesting debate amongst the twitterverse over the summer. Stimson advocated for a new approach to generating offense, the types of shots that a team looks to generate, and even a redefinition of the very approach of the three forward, two defensemen approach.

Another interesting note popped up just last night in Elliotte Friedman’s column for Sportsnet which lends credence to one of the points Stimson made:

Elliotte Friedman - Sportsnet

If we look at the Kings expected scoring production at 5 on 5 so far this year, they are currently 6th in the league in expected goals at 2.67 xGF/60.

Even Drew Doughty has noted the differences in how the Kings play in a recent interview with Pierre LeBrun at The Athletic.

A criticism of the Kings’ play and hockey analytics in general was that they were great in generating positive possession results, but weren’t all that good at actually putting the puck in the net. Doughty alludes to as much. Needless to say, the types of shots the Kings are now looking to generate are different from the Daryl Sutter era.

Steve Valiquette, a former goaltender himself and current analyst for MSG Network introduced the concept of the Royal Road a little over two years ago. True to the goaltender brotherhood, Valiquette sought a better way to evaluate goalies and the shot quality they face, rather than simple save percentage. He broke shots against into green, yellow, and red categories, each with a total percentage of goals of this type that are scored in the NHL.

The Royal Road

The Royal Road is an imaginary line drawn down the middle of the ice from net to net. Pucks crossing this line immediately before a shot have a significantly higher chance of going in the net. The theory behind it is simple: when you make the goalie move, he isn’t able to get set to the shot and can open up holes during his movement across the goal crease.

Steve Valiquette MSG Networks

Valiquette further divides goals against as either green, yellow, or red goals. Green goals are scored by passing across the royal road, possessing the puck across the royal road, screens, deflections, broken plays or one-timers on the same side of the royal road.

Valiquette is a bit less specific in what he means by red shots, other than the goalie has at least a half a second to set up without anything (screens, pre-shot movement, or a redirection of the puck) to affect the goalies vision or movement.

The last category of shots covered are yellow shots. These are the rarest of shot types because defenders are designed to defend this area of the ice. If we draw a line extending straight out from the net to the center ice line in either direction, this is the area where yellow shots originate from.

For complete descriptions, see the full article here.

Of all the goals scored in the NHL, 76% of them are green goals. With that baseline established, let’s look at the Predators 5 on 5 goals through the first three weeks of the season to see exactly how they are scoring their goals.

October 5th: Boston 4 - Nashville 3

The Predators only scored one even strength goal in the season opener. It was Viktor Arvidsson’s tally right before the end of the first period. Let’s classify this one as a Screened goal. It’s not easy to see if Zdeno Chara did impede Rask’s vision but if Big Z is skating in front of your own net it might be hard to see the puck.

October 7th: Pittsburgh 4 - Nashville 0

No goals here, not off to a good start.

October 10th: Nashville 6 - Philadelphia 5

Craig Smith opened the scoring with a PPG in the first period. The Preds scored twice to open up a 3-0 lead in the second. Nick Bonino’s rebound goal came during 4 on 4 play. Only Scott Hartnell’s goal came 5 on 5. We will classify this one as a Red Rebound. There is no way Elliott should have let a shot from just inside the blue line come all the way out to a spot on the ice where Hartnell could bury the slapper.

The third period’s only 5 on 5 goal from Nashville came off of Ryan Johansen’s center ice feed to a streaking Filip Forsberg. We will call this a Yellow Goal. Technically the puck crossed the Royal Road, but the pass originated from the neutral zone and if you look at Elliott before the puck is shot, he did have the chance to set up and Forsberg didn’t make him move horizontally across the crease.

October 12th: Nashville 4 - Dallas 1

Samuel Girard’s first NHL goal came off of a feed from P.K. Subban. This goal could fit in either the Pass Across the Royal Road category or the Screened category, but I’ll put it in the latter because of the distance of the shot and amount of pre-shot movement from Ben Bishop. You’ll see in the replay how little Bishop moves and how late his reaction is, likely from the Antoine Roussel’s failure to block the shot.

The second Preds goal of the night game from Viktor Arvidsson. This one of the Yellow variety. A poor zone exit from Alex Radulov leads to a quick transition pass from Forsberg to Arvidsson alone in the middle of the ice. Bishop is set to this shot too. Arvy just beats him stick side.

October 14th: Chicago 2 - Nashville 1 (OT)

The lone Preds goal in this one was a Filip Forsberg power-play goal in the 1st period.

October 17th: Nashville 4 - Colorado 1

The win over Colorado on the 17th saw Nashville score two 5 on 5 goals. None came in the first period, but the Preds put one home in the second and another in the third.

Semyon Varlamov had almost no chance on the first marker by Arvidsson who took a pass from Forsberg by carrying the puck across the royal road. So this is clearly a Possession Across the Royal Road goal.

In the third period, Austin Watson scored his first goal of the season off of a Green Rebound from a broken play where the puck found its way onto the blade of Alexei Emelin who blasted a shot from the circle. Varlamov left a juicy rebound on the back door for Watson.

October 19th: Nashville 1 - Philadelphia 0

The only score of the night in Preds-Flyers round two came from Colton Sissons who scored from a Pass Across the Royal Road by Kevin Fiala.

October 21st: New York Rangers 4 - Nashville 2

Mattias Ekholm scored his first goal of the year through a mass of humanity for a Screened goal against Lundqvist.

Although they dominated they dominated the course of play, Nashville fell to the Rangers, but they did notch a second 5 on 5 goal with a Filip Forsberg Deflection of a Josi shot. The closer deflections occur to the net, the more likely they are to end up as goals.

October 24th: Calgary 3 - Nashville 2 (SO)

Score effects aside, the Predators got dominated on Tuesday night by Calgary. Two quick power-play goals in the first period forced the Flames to chase the game the entire night. Calgary ended up completing the comeback on Matthew Tkachuk’s deciding goal in the shootout.

October 27th: Nashville 2 - Chicago 1

Another game, another struggle to generate offense at 5 on 5. Nashville scored a lone even strength goal on Friday night against Chicago on an errant exit attempt by the Blackhawks that found its way to Calle Jarnkrok in the slot. I’ll classify this as a Yellow Goal because he had an unimpeded shot on net below the top of the circles.

October 28th: New York Islanders 6 - Nashville 2

On Saturday night the Predators got blitzed by the Islanders. Another start, another loss for Jusse Saros, presenting yet another problem for Coach Laviolette to manage. Once again Nashville scored just a single 5 on 5 goal. This one a Green Rebound deposited by Filip Forsberg.

5 on 5 Course of Play

Clearly the Predators have some issues here. Through eleven games the Predators have just 26 total goals. They’ve only scored twelve 5 on 5 goals to date. Add in eleven more on the power-play. They scored one into the empty net and have two 4 on 4 goals. If we break those 5 on 5 goals into categories we have:

Green Goals (8)

Three have been scored on screens; one in tight from Arvidsson and two from defenders, one each from Sam Girard and Mattias Ekholm. Forsberg scored on a tip of a Josi shot. They scored one with possession across the Royal Road by Arvidsson, two off rebounds; one by by Austin Watson; the other from Filip Forsberg. Lastly, Nasvhille has scored just on just a single lone pass across the Royal Road that ended up in the net, that one being scored Sissons from Fiala.

Red Goals (1)

The only red goal was the rebound left by Brian Elliott that Scott Hartnell blasted into the net.

Yellow Goals (3)

Filip Forsberg has one and so do Viktor Arvidsson and Calle Jarnkrok. Forsberg scored on a home run pass from Johansen against Philly. Arvy’s was in transition against Dallas, and Jarnkrok was gifted an errant pass in the slot against the Isles.

75% of their goals have been scored in the green variety, and on only one goal could you find fault with the goaltender.

In-Zone Play

I don’t track in-zone offense like Corey Sznadjer does, but if we can use the limited sample size of what we’ve observed of the actual goals scored, Nashville isn’t generating enough action across the Royal Road. In my Fiala article in the pre-season I discussed the lack of playmakers in the offense. With the JOFA line left intact, Nashville is in dire need of secondary scoring.

Although fan favorites, the Preds have a bunch of B- wingers dotting the lineup after the first line. We’ve seen Fiala make plays with our eyeballs, but only one of those plays has resulted in a goal. Maybe that’s expected with his most common linemates being Craig Smith, Colton Sissons and Calle Jarnkrok. Smith can be classified as a shooter, but Fiala would have to play the play-maker role with him. Sissons and Jarnkrok combined have five points on the season. Not that we’d expect them to score a bunch; they collected 41 points last year in 139 combined games. The totality of Nashville’s in-zone play is best left for another article, but there isn’t much scoring punch after JOFA.

Analytics Performance

Looking back at the expected goal chart from above; only one team has a lower expected goal rate per 60 than the Predators 2.09 mark; and that lone team with a lower expected output is Buffalo. Nashville is firmly planted in the “Dull” category.

The Predators have played 475 minutes of 5 on 5 hockey through the first nine games and are scoring just 1.52 GF/60, so they have been unlucky thus far as displayed in the chart below.

The numbers should balance out, but it’s no secret that Nashville has a weakness down the middle of the ice. The analytics tell us that Nashville should have scored an additional five goals at 5 on 5 to date. Like I laid out before in my playoffs article, each standings point is worth about three goals. If the Preds are already five goals below expected value just at 5 on 5, they have already surrendered 1.5 points to luck. Maybe the hockey gods give those points back, but this team is already 0-1 in overtime and 0-1 in the shootout. Both are problems carried over from last year. With Samuel Girard munching on popcorn in the pressbox, how long before David Poile feels pressure to make a move? He’s a patient, veteran GM, but the bar has been raised in Nashville by the teams performance last spring. I’ll continue to track the types of goals Nashville scores throughout the year at 5 on 5 play, but the faults of this forward corps are already on display.