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Thoughts From The Tire Barn: Game 1 vs The Seattle Kraken

Welcome to a new feature from us at On The Forecheck! Shaun Smith and I continue our coverage of the Nashville Predators home games this season, and we’re going to provide some extra insight, statistics and media from the game that wouldn’t necessarily be included in our regular post-game recap.  Let us know what you think in the comments!

Out of Their Depth

Despite Mikael Granlund’s three-point night (one goal, two assists) and the early goal by Eeli Tolvanen, Nashville’s top line of Filip Forsberg (two assists), Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen was the only group capable of generating offense consistently.

Below are several metrics describing just how big the difference was when that unit was on the ice compared to the other nine forwards.

(Note: All stats are at 5 on 5. Percentages are based on the number of shot attempts, shots on goal, high-danger shot attempts and expected goals created by Nashville compared to Seattle. A percentage higher than 50% denotes a Nashville advantage. Data courtesy Natural Stat Trick.)

The twelve shot attempts by the top line resulted in a +10 shot attempt advantage – indicating that Nashville was much better at establishing and maintaining possession of the puck, something the team struggled with on a whole last night.

If Nashville is going to find success offensively this season, they’re going to have to come up with reliable depth past the top line.

Penalty Kill Woes Continue

Nashville spent 3:35 killing penalties last night, and as you all well know, it did not go well.  While Nashville limited the Seattle power play to just three unblocked shot attempts, two of those shots found their way to the back of the net. If the Predators were able to suppress shot opportunities, what else could have contributed to the back-breaking (and game-deciding) goals?

One possible answer is the penalty kill performance of Juuse Saros. The young netminder overcame a slow start last season to finish as one of the best goaltenders in the NHL, led by his stellar results at even strength. Saros’ penalty-killing performance, however, may have kept him out of Vezina Trophy discussions.

Saros appeared to have more trouble saving shots taken from his right side; however, his performance overall remained particularly concerning. The Nashville penalty-killing units this season will have to improve their defensive effort not only to continue suppressing shots, but also to force opposing teams to take low-quality, long-distance shots.

A Big Phillipe of Faith

Phillipe Myers will likely be largely known by Predators fans as the return from the offseason trade of defender Ryan Ellis.  And while a simple glance confirms that he fits the “big body” defender role General Manager David Poile put an emphasis on this offseason, Myers’s first game in a Predators sweater was encouraging.

With Myers on the ice at 5 on 5 last night, Nashville out-shot Seattle – in fact, the Predators’ eight unblocked shot attempts between the circles matched the total number of attempts made by the Kraken.

It’s obviously too early to come to any conclusions regarding Myers’s performance with a one-game sample, but those who were concerned about replacing an elite defender like Ellis have at least one game to feel better about.

Top Performers – Game Score

Cole Palmer of Hockey Stat Cards creates single-game player evaluations utilizing data from Natural Stat Trick and the Game Score metric (specifically the one created by Dom Luszczysyn).  Game score is a rough, single-number metric that utilizes all the statistics available to essentially “grade” each player in the game.

As expected, Mikael Granlund led all players with his three-point performance, and Nashville players made up nine of the top ten game scores in the game.  However, the swift dropoff in performance is yet another indicator that aside from the top six, Nashville was completely unable to generate offense or stop Seattle on defense.

Analytic Breakdown – Game Recaps for Nerds

Most of you are familiar by now with my game charts on Twitter – this series will also showcase the statistical breakdown as well, and I’ll provide three good things and three bad about the performance. Click through the gallery to see all the charts:

The Good

  1. Mattias Ekholm putting new contract to good use – Ekholm spent the majority of last season paired with Dante Fabbro when both were healthy, so it was a bit of a surprise to see Myers with Ekholm and Fabbro on the third pair alongside Ben Harpur.  But Ekholm and Myers did not disappoint, and put up a strong defensive effort both in shot suppression and shot quality.
  2. Eeli Tolvanen: Two-way forward – while the “youth movement” has largely focused on the rise of players like Tanner Jeannot as well as first-round pick Philip Tomasino, Tolvanen was one of the only young players to have a positive impact on the game.  Tolvanen was tied for the team lead in high-danger shot attempts (two) at 5 on 5 with his three shots on goal.  Tolvanen continued his aggressive forechecking that was on display this preseason, hounding Seattle players in the Kraken zone as well. One thing missing? Tolvanen did not register any hits last night (according to the NHL scorekeepers), but that may be for the best to maintain his durability.
  3. Shot Quality – The NHL average expected goal value for an unblocked shot attempt is about 0.045 xG/shot, and Nashville was able to create high-quality opportunities in the few attempts they were given.  Both teams were nearly spot-on at 5 on 5 with goals compared to expected. Still, this hasn’t been a hallmark of Nashville hockey recently, so it’s nice to see them start here on the right foot.

The Bad

  1. Unforced Errors – Nashville took four penalties in the game, two of which resulted in a Kraken goal. Yakov Trenin’s fight early in the game also involved two minutes for roughing, and Filip Forsberg received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty following an offsetting penalty by Seattle, much to the mystification of those in attendance. Nashville also led in giveaways/turnovers, with nine giveaways recorded versus Seattle’s five.
  2. Penalty killing – See above. It’s hard to tell where the blame falls on the Nashville penalty kill: is it strictly poor goaltending by Saros or the combined defensive effort by the special teams unit?  One thing is for certain, however – the Predators would be best suited not taking four penalties every game.
  3. Lack of consistency – After Eeli Tolvanen’s game-opening goal, Nashville spent the majority of the following 45+ minutes unable to enter the zone, complete passes, or maintain puck possession. Seattle’s defensive approach – especially in their transition defense – completely stymied the Nashville offense. The top two lines were the only ones with experience playing together last season (Forsberg-Duchene-Johansen did not play together until the playoffs), and the lack of chemistry among the other groups will hopefully improve over the course of the season.

Post-Game Press Conference

Nashville Predators forward Mikael Granlund

Nashville Predators forward Eeli Tolvanen

Nashville Predators Head Coach John Hynes

Renegades of Puck Post-Game Wrap-Up

Shaun and I continue our partnership with the Renegades of Puck – moving from radio to video content this season, and we’ll be on hand to provide insight alongside Charlie Saunier, Greg Moshopoulos and The Ultimate Predator for previews, recaps and much more.

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Talking Points