The Nashville Predators Aren't Special, And That's A Good Thing
With such an unpredictable season on their hands, it appears the Nashville Predators could be on the verge of something very special, or so it seems.
With all the comebacks, dominant play, and incredible goaltending (the past three games notwithstanding), it's easy to call this team special. I certainly can't blame anyone who feels this is a special team. So what's so wrong about being special? Because "special" isn't lasting. "Special" doesn't extend into the postseason. "Special" is a talking point to convey how much fun it is to watch this team play and seemingly be in every game even when down 2 goals in the third period.
Nashville currently holds the highest 5 on 5 score-adjusted PDO at 101.9. PDO, often used as a measurement of luck, tends to fall right around 100. Teams significantly above or below 100 are often deemed "lucky" or "unlucky". Nashville falls in the "lucky" category this season, but this doesn't mean their PDO will decrease anytime soon, although it has taken a dip in the last 3 of 4 games. It is entirely possible that a team with above average goaltending will have a higher PDO, and Pekka Rinne has been well above average this year.
Now, PDO regression is something that happens and something that teams succumb to all the time, just ask the 2012-13 Toronto Maple Leafs or the 2013-14 Colorado Avalanche. Those teams rode their high PDO's to the playoffs only to "disappoint" compared to their tremendous regular seasons. Those teams were also severely outshot however. Toronto had a 5 on 5 score-adjusted CF% of 44.5% in 2012-13 while Colorado finished the 2013-14 season with a 5 on 5 score-adjusted CF% of 47.6%. As of this writing, Nashville sits 7th in the league in 5 on 5 score-adjusted CF% at 53.4%. Nashville isn't so much a "special" team as much as they just have the puck more than their opponents most nights.
On those nights where Nashville finds themselves outshooting opponents but falling behind on the scoreboard, they have been able to comeback in a good number of them due to a phenomenon referred to as score effects. Put simply, score effects refer to a trailing team's ability to put up more shots while a leading team will sit back defensively. This makes intuitive sense as well. Generally, a leading team will play cautiously while a trailing team will play aggressively. As a result, trailing teams tend to increase their possession play. When trailing by 1 goal this season, Nashville ranks 12th in CF% at 55.8%, when trailing by 2 goals, they rank 7th with 60.1%, and when trailing by 3 or more they rank 4th with 73.4%. Good teams have grit and heart but so do bad teams. Nashville's talent and system is what ultimately allows them to remain competitive in games no matter how many goals behind they find themselves.
None of these above stats will predict exactly how the end of the regular season will go or what will happen once the playoffs start. One thing that is certain, though, is that unlike Colorado last year and Toronto the year before last, Nashville has set themselves up to be a competitive franchise beyond this season. Yes, there are a few roster concerns, but no team is perfect, and the concerns now aren't close to what we were discussing in September.
So, while it may seem odd to say, there is nothing special about this team unless you include "being really, really good" as special. Last year, Colorado was special. The year before that, Toronto was special. This year, Nashville is anything but special, and that's a good thing.