The Nashville Predators were back home for the first of a three game home stretch after what amounted to be a long November spent mostly on the road. The Columbus Blue Jackets were in town to play a little Tuesday night hockey. Both teams sat in the middle of the standings in their respective divisions and looked to put a little distance between themselves and those knocking at the door behind them.
I wanted to take a close look at the Predators transition game. I felt a stronger transition game would have benefited the team against stouter opponents such as the Vegas Golden Knights and the Colorado Avalanche. And, according to Alex Daugherty of A to Z Sports, transitional play was a heavy emphasis in morning skate earlier in the day. I asked for ideas on Twitter and got some good ones: Dante Fabbro’s improved play and the comparison of where the team is performance wise versus what fans expected going into the season.
Early returns on the transitional game looked fairly strong. One of the quickest and most noticeable differences was the abundance of gold jerseys clogging up the neutral zone. This strategy paid off quickly as it led to a few turnovers. Most notable of those turnovers was one that resulted in a 2-on-1 that ended with Colton Sissons connecting with Yakov Trenin for a top shelf snipe that put the team up 2-0.
As the game transitioned (get it?) into the second period, the Predators neutral zone play seemed to shift a bit in response to Columbus’s willingness to send their defenders deeper into the offensive zone. This allowed the Predators look for more opportunities for stretch pass breakouts and odd-man rushes.
Looking back on the night as a whole, you could say this was a successfully strategy. Of course, the flow of the game shifted as Nashville continued to pile up goals and I can’t say the blowout was the direct result of their neutral zone play. However, I would like to see it enacted against stiffer competition in the coming weeks to see if can yield more positive results.
Dante Fabbro played on a pairing with Roman Josi. The metrics for success when doing so are quite simple, the casual observer should not notice you because they’re staring at Roman Josi doing Roman Josi things. However, while I can certainly say that most casual observers did not notice Dante Fabbro, mainly because Roman Josi was doing Roman Josi things, I tried to pry my eyes away from Roman Josi long enough to focus on Fabbro. Here’s what I saw: Dante Fabbro had excellent positioning away from puck which allowed him to quickly assist in shifting the puck from east to west in the offensive zone, while also being perfectly positioned to make the stretch pass on breakaways form the defensive zone.
In recent games, I’d seen Fabbro cover for the mistakes of others. This, compared to the criticisms of last season where people were quick to point out when other players had to cover for Fabbro’s mistakes, has been a pleasant surprise. Last night, I may have been trying to look past Roman Josi to see Fabbro, but I’ll admit that Filip Forsberg and Mikael Granlund got in the way.
From what I saw, though, Fabbro looked great. I’m going to attribute this to a few things: First, he’s had a full training camp with his new coach. Second, he’s (probably) going to get to play in his first full season of NHL hockey. Third, he played in a variety of spots on the roster last season due to the rotating injuries and has experience in different roles. Fourth, I bet he worked his tail off this summer (which seems to be a theme with a lot of players on this team this past offseason). And, finally, I don’t think he was as bad last season as a lot of people would like to believe. I think he was an easy target for ire because a lot of his mistakes stood out.
Consider the case of Ben Harpur. Yes, Ben Harpur makes a lot of mistakes on the ice that stand out because they tend to lead to turnover and goals. At the same time, he also makes a lot of mistakes away from the puck that may not show up right before a goal by the other team.
I don’t think you can say the same for Fabbro last season. Most interesting was this article from The Athletic (a subscription site) that came out yesterday that showed Fabbro ranking fairly high amongst puck moving defensemen. While it seemed validating that he appeared high on the list, it was even more impressive that these numbers came from last season, when he was supposedly terrible.
"Puck-moving" requires different skill-sets depending on what zone a defensemen is in.— dom at the athletic (@domluszczyszyn) November 30, 2021
Using data from @InStatHockey, me and @harmandayal2 look at the league's best puck-movers in all three zones from last season.https://t.co/phSMSdcDOl pic.twitter.com/TTsBNSsWec
Expectation vs Reality
I ran this poll before the game last night and got the following results:
The Nashville Predators currently sit in third place in the Central Division. They are 2 points out of second place. It’s interesting to note that only 4 points separate second through sixth. And, there is a large discrepancy between those 5 teams in regards to how many games each have played.
I don't want to go through and play the math game to figure out what the standings would look like if all teams had played the same number of games, but it’s fair to say Colorado would be much higher than sixth. Beyond that, it’ll take a few more games before the standings are more calibrated to what they should be, but the team looks to be about a 5th place team at the moment that’s sitting in third.
I think the Nashville Predators, if they continue to be a team that can play inspired hockey, but fails to show up for a floundering team like Montreal, will be mired in the 5th-6th place range. However, if they can make those games against “fish in a barrel” teams guaranteed wins, I think they could be a bubble team with enough grit to make some noise in the playoffs.
I’ll be back after Thursday night’s game against the Marchand-less Boston Bruins with another article. What do you want me to look at Thursday?