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The Little Things: Irwin’s Shot Volume, WinningThe Neutral Zone

Matt Irwin’s shot volume leads us off with a condensed version of The Little Things.

NHL: Preseason-Columbus Blue Jackets at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

This week’s edition of The Little Things will be a condensed version, analyzing games vs. Chicago and Vancouver.

Here are a few trends/plays which caught my eye.

Bombs away

It might show up in the stat sheet, but Matt Irwin continues to shoot the puck a ton. As of Friday afternoon, Irwin ranks second on the Predators with 5.93 shots per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, but the majority of his bombs from the point don’t reach the net, which limits his shots on goal numbers.

You’ll see on this sequence above - two of Irwin’s three shots were blocked, while another was tipped which created a nice scoring chance for Nashville.

And now to the Vancouver meeting where Irwin blasted the puck off the post thanks to more net front traffic.

I’ve mentioned this before, saying Irwin isn’t exactly the player you want shooting the puck at this high of a rate. But at least someone other than Roman Josi is. By comparison, P.K. Subban’s rate is 4.32/60, while Mattias Ekholm sits at 4.02/60. The remaining defensemen are less than three.

The weekly good Emelin/bad Emelin segment

Overall, Alexei Emelin had a pretty solid week. He played well when he and P.K. Subban were assigned to defend on a couple penalty kills, and produced potential game-saving moments.

Here’s the most noteworthy:

Emelin saved the day here as Chicago had a clearcut 2-on-1 shorthanded chance. If he doesn’t make that dive, this game likely goes to overtime.

But then there’s bad Emelin:

It’s the third period, so of course this happens as Emelin makes a horrendous pass in his own zone. Luckily, Pekka Rinne bailed him out with an amazing point-blank save.

But on the bright side, Emelin totaled his fourth-best Corsi For Percentage (59.26%) at 5-on-5, and was a factor offensively with a 66.25 Expected Goals For Percentage.

Creative passing key in Preds home PP

In case you didn't know, the Predators power play has been on fire, setting a franchise record with 12 consecutive goals on the man advantage. There are several factors which can be attributed to this streak, but it starts with more creative passing and less shots from the blue line.

Both of these clips were on back-to-back penalty calls. The first showcases great movement by the Preds, with Filip Forsberg skating by and collecting the puck from Viktor Arvidsson. That exchange draws a crowd, leaving Subban open on the far side.

The second is here just to show Forsberg being Forsberg, gliding by his defender and dishing the puck off to Arvidsson for a shot.

Watson’s line sparks great shift

I always like to display an extended look at shifts, and this one by both the fourth and top lines was threatening.

Austin Watson, Miikka Salomaki and Frederick Gaudreau started the pressure (you see Watson deliver a hit while Emelin is also helping in the trapezoid), then Ryan Johansen’s fresh line steps on the ice and it’s on. The Canucks are exhausted and as a result, Forsberg gets off a promising wrister.

Calle answers the call

Great defensive play by Calle Jarnkrok here to stuff the Blackhawks who were looking to tie the game on the power play. Stay tuned for another example of this.

But first, more on Jarnkrok. Against Vancouver, he finished with an impressive 90.57 xGF% with Nick Bonino joining him in by generating offense on the third line. Then, against the Ducks, Jarnkrok replaced Johansen on the power play (a move I questioned initially), but instantly scored. It was a good move by Peter Laviolette, and Jarnkrok continues to center the second unit.

Winning the neutral zone

More from that Blackhawks matchup...

Nashville owned the neutral zone vs. Chicago, just like this occasion as Jonathan Toews tries to cross before being met by the JOFA line. Excellent work by Johansen to apply the initial check, then Forsberg takes on two Blackhawks to tap the puck to Subban.

Two defensive breakdowns

Another recurring trend for the Predators is a lack of awareness. We saw it again vs. Chicago, beginning with the Blackhawks’ first tally:

Alex DeBrincat races to avoid an icing call, which seems to put the Preds in a tough spot as Anthony Bitetto loses the race and gets tripped up against the wall. The Hawks make a line change, and no one wearing gold sees Tommy Wingels skating towards the net. For whatever reason, everyone is watching DeBrincat as Wingels sneaks by Salomaki, who is the primary man at fault here.

Fast forward to the third period and the Preds put themselves in another difficult position. The puck is sent in deep, and rather than one player following Ryan Hartman who corrals it, both Ekholm and Kevin Fiala follow. This leaves Patrick Sharp in open territory to get a shot away. Kyle Turris does his job correctly and defends Connor Murphy, so ideally, Fiala should have been the only Nashville player to follow the puck, which would’ve kept Ekholm in front of the crease.

Why did Patrick Kane have so many chances?

In the first period, Kane peppered Rinne’s pad with several high danger chances. How did it starts?

No puck clearance.

Jarnkrok and Bonino are the culprits here, as they can’t control a bouncing puck. Bonino even hits it towards his own net which starts this amazing sequence of saves by Rinne.

All numbers courtesy of Natural Stat Trick