Prince Filip and the Predators: Tempering Expectations
The Predators are off to a start no one saw coming, not even us here at On The Forecheck. Their possession numbers are strong, but are some aspects of their game too good to be true?
Before I dive in, let me get one thing straight. The Predators are a good hockey team. I am not making the argument that they aren't good or don't deserve to be where they are at in the standings. I, am, however making the the argument that some of their success is unsustainable. The first line has virtually been carrying this team all year from a goal scoring standpoint while Pekka Rinne is putting up numbers well beyond his already respectful career numbers.
The regular season is long and there are obvious stretches of good and bad hockey for every team. So far, Nashville has been on a roll from the beginning of the season through Wednesday's 9-2 drubbing of Toronto. They have relied upon the top line for much of the scoring during this time.
James Neal, Mike Ribeiro, and Filip Forsberg have all surprised even the most optimistic Predators fan but don't expect this pace to continue. While it's true your stars can't win every game for you, the numbers this top line are putting up go beyond just being a top line. To measure this, we can use PDO, a combination of OnIceSv% and OnIceSh% that usually ends up between 99 and 101. Now, a better offensive player may have a PDO above 101 due to higher shooting percentage, but it's generally not by more than a point or so. So far at 5on5, Ribeiro has a PDO of 107.78, Neal's PDO is 107.16, and Forsberg's is a whopping 114.28.
Forsberg's 5on5 PDO is especially interesting. He has been incredible up to date, and his back pressure and possession game is something that should stay around over the long term. However, his Sh% is at 18.92%, while his OnIceSv% is at 98.31%. It's hard to say if Forsberg's play has affected his OnIceSv% (most wingers have no control over it) and it's also safe to say his Sh% will drop too. Now, even if his shooting percentage is above average, which it probably is, no player has put up a shooting percentage at 5on5 that supreme. For reference, Steven Stamkos has a 5on5 on shooting percentage of 15.85% for his career. Forsberg is a good player, but he isn't that good.
Another important thing of note with regards to Forsberg's numbers is his incredible goals-for percentage. Forsberg has been on the ice for 23 goals for and 2 goals against at 5on5; good for a GF% of 92%. Amazing for the time being, but this is another number we can expect to come down.
The luck is not all on Forsberg's stick however. Pekka Rinne has been playing well this year. Some have made early calls for him as the Vezina winner this year, as they should be. His numbers are good, but they are beyond anything we have seen from him. He currently has a 5on5 sv% of .946 this season. His career 5on5 sv% is .928, a great number, but it is no .946. Again, for reference, Tuukka Rask has a career 5on5 sv% of .934, the best since 2008. It's almost impossible for Rinne to keep this play up for the entire season.
These favorable bounces have spread to the team level. The league average PDO since 2007 is 100.00533. So, even if Nashville is a team that may have an above average PDO, it's probably closer to 100.5 or 101 rather than the current 104.22 they are at now. Their OnIceSv%, mostly fueled by Rinne, is at .948, while the league average since 2007 is .921. Nashville is most likely above average and the best full season OnIceSv% since 2007 was .941 from Boston in 2010-11. OnIceSv% is far from a highly repeatable skill as the following season Boston's OnIceSv% dropped to .924. Don't count on this being the normal team save percentage for Nashville.
The other side of the PDO rating, the OnIceSh% is a bit more reasonable thanks to the lackluster secondary scoring so far. Since 2007, the highest full season OnIceSh% was 10.30% from Washington in the 2009-10 season. Nashville is currently sitting at 9.47%, but the repeatability of team shooting percentage is also up for debate. Washington had an OnIceSh% of 7.50% in 2010-11.
Simply put, the Predators are going through a hot streak. This won't last, but I also believe they aren't going to fall off a cliff either. Their 5on5 Fenwick-for percentage is at 52.71%. Even when their shooting and save percentages regress to sustainable rates, they will still be controlling over half of the shot attempts. The top line will still be a positive possession line and all three forwards on that line are above average shooters as is. Further, every other forward will most likely regress in the opposite direction since barely any of them had scored before Wednesday's game. Rinne will come down to Earth, which, for him, is still top 10 in the league.
They are essentially a playoff team if they stay healthy and can keep their possession metrics where they are at, but there are indicators that the current stretch of great hockey is unsustainable. Make no mistake, even when they regress, the Predators will still be in great shape to make the playoffs.
*All stats courtesy of War-on-ice.com and current as of 11.19.14.