The Makings of a Frustrating and Scoreless Slump
A carousel of line combinations, poor performance from Pekka Rinne, and really, really bad luck.
The hockey season is full of peaks and valleys and, even though you know the rough times will pass, it doesn't make them any easier to get through.
The Nashville Predators will score a goal again, but right now everything is terrible and the world is hopeless. They've been shutout in three-straight games, the first time in franchise history that has happened. They've been outscored 11-0 in those games, even though a few of them they've been the better performing team.
A hockey team has to score goals to win games... that's obvious. But goals come as a result of shooting the puck, something the Predators have been doing a ton of lately. Simply put, as frustrating as it is, this streak is a result of some shoddy goaltending and some ridiculous bad luck.
#Predators goalless drought now stands at 213:47, which is the 7th longest skid in at least 30 years.— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) November 24, 2015
In their last three games, the #Preds have fired 93 shots on the opponents goal. They have scored 0 times.— Jeremy K. Gover (@govertime) November 24, 2015
Nashville's lack of scoring hasn't been from a lack of Corsi'ing. #NSHvsNYR https://t.co/5PC7Vs36kr pic.twitter.com/CGRAlecATr— hockeystats.ca (@HockeyStatsCa) November 24, 2015
Let's breakdown the Preds's 5v5 performance the last eight games. We'll start with the frustrating loss against Jake Allen and the Blues and go all the way up to last night's frustrating loss against Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers. (All stats via War-on-Ice.)
Look at those numbers going all over the place. A ton of percentage swings (which will happen when singling out games over the course of the season), but in five (!) of the eight they haven't scored a goal at even strength. That's despite owning the possession game in all but two, and the Winnipeg game was pretty close to break even. That just isn't going to continue. Now look at the goaltending numbers. Woof.
So far this year, Rinne is facing 24.28 5v5 SA/60 while sporting a 93.27 Sv%. That's not bad, though his defense is limiting the amount of shots he has to see. His adjusted save percentage is a much more average 91.76. Adjusted save percentage is a weighted-average of a goalie's low, medium and high danger save percentages, weighted against league average. This is to adjust for teams that give up more (or in Nashville's case, fewer) high-quality shots. From War-on-Ice, "this is a goalies save percentage if they faced a league average proportion of shots from each of the three shooting zones." Right now, Rinne's team is making him look a bit more stellar than he actually is.
In the eight-game sample size, Rinne is facing nearly three fewer shots per 60 minuts (21.52) Rinne's Sv% falls to 90.08 and his AdSv% reaches a dismal 87.31. These are not numbers Nashville fans are used to seeing.
But he isn't the only one to blame. It's hard to find comfort on the ice when every night there is a different person out there with you. After a generally steady set of line combinations, the last couple of weeks has seen for forward trios thrown into a blender.
Either due to injury, chemistry searching, or sheer madness, only one game with the same combos. Hockey players are supposed to be professionals who get the job done no matter the situation, but it doesn't make it any easier to play with vastly different players every night. I mean, look at some of the people Peter Laviolette threw together recently.
Now, the makeup of the fourth line and the production of players in the top six is a related matter that we'll get into at another time... but eventually they have to start scoring. They've been absent for far too long for it to be a passing thought now, and coach throwing spaghetti at the wall in hopes that something sticks isn't likely to help. More on that in time.
That being said, now is not the time to pull some drastic move or change in philosophy in hopes of turning it around. The Predators are second in the league in SACF%, behind only perennial possession powerhouses (and champions) the Los Angels Kings.
One of the few rays of sunshine to be taken away is that despite the merry-go-round on the roster, the team as a whole is still, for the most part, outplaying its opponents. This isn't like last year's springtime slump where Nashville was just playing worse than they were before. Scoreless streaks like this aren't going to last forever, and with the resume Rinne has and what the team has been doing, this is more likely a rough stretch of play that will pass. (It's awful right now, though.)
Nashville needs a bunch of luck in the worst way, and many of these games have been painful to watch. Performances with high shot outputs and low shots against should more often than not end in a win. Missed opportunities, failed power plays, and defensive breakdowns always look worse and more glaring when under the microscope of a losing streak.
But from everything we know about playoff teams and future success, it's much better to be doing that than putting up repeats of the last Anaheim game. The Predators have some roster flaws and some underperforming players, but eventually the red light is going to turn on again. Eventually Rinne will start making more of the saves he needs to make.
Let's grit through this together.