Last night's matchup of the Nashville Predators and Arizona Coyotes was an ugly game. The 4-1 loss to the cellar-dwelling Yotes was rough, of course, but the defense was somehow worse than ever and Nashville's 0 for 6 night on the power play was maddening. But while the young, transitioning roster that mounted (and failed to convert) a late comeback against the Vancouver Canucks that doubled as Luke Evangelista's scoring debut, the “Patchwork” Predators last night couldn't get anything past Arizona goaltender Ivan Prosvetov (1-3-1 in 7 career games), no matter how hard they tried.
With the "new car" smell wearing off the sudden franchise overhaul, fans now have to face the reality they wanted for so long - the the team is probably going to be bad, and for a while. General Manager-in-Waiting Barry Trotz will have the reins to build the franchise in his vision with the assistance of the haul of draft capital obtained at the trade deadline, but the question remains: how long will it take (and will it even work)? Smashville has never faced the reality of changing GMs until now, and the recently-relocated, but victorious Arizona Coyotes serve as a grim warning of what can go wrong when an organization faces some bad luck while trying to rebuild.
While this game will likely fade in the memories of both fans and the players alike quickly, the Nashville Predators had one thing working against them: this was the unluckiest game they've played all season.
One-sided losses aren’t new for Nashville this season, so let’s investigate the usual reasons the Predators struggle. The defense turned out one of it's worst performances of the season - and gave up the third-most expected goals at all situations this season. But it isn't much of a surprise as the "full roster" prior to the deadline was a regular in the bottom third of the league. Goaltender Juuse Saros continued his Sisyphean task of trying to win games singlehandedly by managing +1.46 goals saved above expected (GSAx) which should have been good enough for at least a point in the standard. Since Saros proved once again that he is able to withstand a scattered, piecemeal defense in front of him, there’s only one thing left - the players have to get the puck in the net.
That didn’t happen.
Despite six chances on the power play totaling over nine minutes of the game (9:03), the Predators ran into the familiar issue of an unsuccessful power play, but for once, it wasn't for their lack of trying. Their 1.78 expected goals (xG) at 5 on 4, along with 3.29 expected goals at even strength and empty net time resulted in the highest team expected goal total they've had all season with 5.83 xG at all situations per Evolving Hockey.
A major contributor last night was Cody Glass, who added a 6 on 4 goal late to make it 3-1, led both teams with 2.35 xG on his unblocked shot attempts alone. Per Natural Stat Trick there were 18 high-danger chances for the Predators, edging Arizona’s 16, eight of which were attributed to Glass (five at even strength). And if those numbers don’t mean much to you, I think this map tells the same story.
The Predators focused on creating high danger chances, and until last night, it was an extremely effective plan. Nashville was 12-2-0 when accumulating four or more expected goals coming into the night, and all but one of those games saw Nashville scoring twice or more. But what does expected goals have to do with luck?
Most expected goals models are trained that over the course of a season, a team should be roughly equal in expected goals and actual goals scored. If a team had a lot more goals than expected, it’s likely they had career shooting performances from players like Filip Forsberg and Matt Duchene did last season.
Goals over Expected (goals for minus expected goals) - a stat that helps communicate how effective teams are at both creating scoring opportunities, as well as converting them into goals. When a team is shooting hot, the goals over expected is positive number. On the other hand, the Predators were deep in the negative last night, and worse than it had been all season.
The -4.81 goals over expected is an outlier performance: for most teams in the NHL, there’s a pretty direct relationship between expected goals and goals. The chart above is a pretty clear example of just how different the loss to Arizona was. Nashville put on it’s most dangerous offensive performance of the season, and was rewarded with an even better performance from a backup goaltender getting his first NHL win in 7 tries and multiple shots off the crossbar.
(Author’s note: click here to see a full-size version of the viz below)
Why does it matter? It’s more than a convenient excuse for an embarrassing loss, it’s an example that unless something wildly different happens (like last night), a team with the right focus will succeed more often than not. And while the Predators are nowhere close to having to leave Bridgestone Arena, there’s hope that the new GM, a load of extra draft picks, and an inexperienced group of young players can succeed in getting the franchise back on the right track as well. The “right track” is lined with ugly losses, but the Nashville Predators believe the transition from the only general manager in history, David Poile , to a familiar face in Barry Trotz will shorten the process - we’ll just have to hope they’re right.
All statistics via Evolving-Hockey, Natural Stat Trick and HockeyViz