The Nashville Predators are the best team in the West!
Let’s make one thing clear: this is a great time to be a Preds fan. The team is 8-1-1 in their last 10 games, the offense is chugging along at 3.11 goals per game, the goalies are playing great, the defense is contributing offensively, and the team is doing all of this shorthanded: Ryan Johansen is day-to-day, Scott Hartnell is still out, and Ryan Ellis has yet to play a game. When those players return, expect more fireworks.
There are some oddities regarding this team that need to be explained and some advanced analytics show that maybe this team isn’t as good as their record suggests, but with a bit of context I’d say the worries are a bit overblown. This team, with all of its early success, is actually trending up.
Let’s start with expected goals.
This chart from Sean Tierney shows a five-game rolling average for the Predators’ expected goal differential. Essentially it measures the scoring ability of the Preds against the scoring ability of their opponents based on the quality and location of the shot attempts produced in a game. Being below the 50% mark isn’t good.
A lot of that is bad—really bad—but there’s a noticeable trend there at the end.
While the Preds have struggled to produce more expected goals than their opponents for most of the season, with a real low point occurring in late October, the Preds have certainly been better recently. Their differential climbed significantly around the mid November mark (the Preds traded for Kyle Turris on November 5th) and they’ve been hovering just below the 50% mark for the better part of two weeks now.
Being below the 50% mark still isn’t great, but it is certainly improved from the first month of the season.
From the rolling average above, the expected goals certainly seem to be trending up, though it is hard to say how much. The Turris trade is probably a big reason why, as Turris’ line has produced 15 goals in 13 games since the Turminator came over from Ottawa. Roman Josi is probably also a big reason why; he has 11 points in his last 13 games. Then there’s Filip Forsberg, who has a point per game this season and is well on his way to crushing the season points record for Nashville.
The team will need to continue this trend in order to really make an impact on their overall expected goals numbers (they currently sit 24th in the league in xGF%) but the trend is undeniable.
The Corsi differential (shots attempts for vs. against) suggests the same trend:
The Preds have not been the same Corsi machine they normally have been under Laviolette. They currently sit 22nd in the league in shot attempt for percentage at 48.4%, which is staggeringly low for this team. But as you can see above, there seems to be a trend towards the plus-50% side of the measurement since the mid November mark. So that is very good.
Also, the Predators’ PDO (save percentage plus shooting percentage, ostensibly a measurement of luck) is 14th in the league, so it doesn’t appear this team is merely riding a series of fortunate bounces either. Several other top teams in the league—including Los Angeles, Tampa Bay, St. Louis, and New Jersey—all have a higher PDO than Nashville.
Then there is the score effect. The Predators have had the lead in games for 756 minutes (all situations) which leads the NHL. Because of this, they’ve faced 756 minutes of opponents scrambling to try to tie the game. This creates an imbalance in puck possession, shot attempts, shots on goal, and expected goals. We’ve all seen this, of course, and it has resulted in several comebacks by opposing teams.
The length of time spent on the lead can be disarming for teams. In-game strategies, even the most offensive ones, become defensive once a lead is obtained, regardless of that team’s natural ability to generate offense at the other end. It’s almost impossible to resist the turtle.
When we look through the other end of the microscope, the Preds have spent a league low 321 minutes (all situations) trailing in hockey games. Their shot attempt for percentage jumps to 59.6% when that happens, which is 4th best in the league (up from 22nd in the league when leading in games). It’s not just the special teams getting it done, either: they are 10th best in that category when skating 5-on-5.
The good news for Preds fans is that this team has had a great deal of success in their first 27 games this year. The great news is that it appears as if we can expect even better play from this team in the weeks and months to come.
The bad news? Well... there might not be any of that right now.
All stats from Natural Stat Trick and Corsica Hockey, and are 5-on-5 unless otherwise noted.