This Nashville Predators playoff run has been one of many firsts. They played in (and won) their first Game Seven in franchise history, won their first playoff overtime game at home (and then won another) and are now about to play another Game Seven for a shot at their first-ever Western Conference Final berth.
If the Predators win on Thursday, it will also be the second straight series in which they overcome a 3-2 series deficit. That’s no small feat, especially considering the talented Pacific Division talent they’ve faced. It also shows how much better this Nashville team is when facing adversity. It seems to be a tale of two teams: the Predators with Breathing Room and the Predators Under Pressure. In these playoffs, the closer Nashville’s back is against the proverbial wall, the better they play.
On the surface, this hypothesis rings true. They’ve forced a Game Seven in two consecutive series, and overcame a 2-0 deficit against the Sharks to tie this Western Conference Semifinal. The Predators also dropped two consecutive games at home in their first series when they had a 2-0 lead in the series.
While this hypothesis passes the eye test, the numbers seem to back it up as well. One of the traditional statistical indicators of team success is Corsi For percentage, although the Predators have broken that trend this season. They tend to win games in which they get out-shot, and lose when they out-shoot their opponents.
Two other metrics of on-ice success are PDO (on-ice shooting percentage + on-ice save percentage) and High-Danger Scoring Chances For percentage (Ratio of “high danger” scoring chances for vs. against). If a team is making saves and scoring at a high rate while generating chances in high-danger area, then they are primed for success.
First, take a look at this graph, courtesy of war-on-ice.com, which maps Nashville’s PDO over their entire playoff run so far:
Each data point represents one playoff game. The first two are games one and two of the Anaheim series, in which the Predators needed to get off to a hot start to tame a tough Ducks team. If they had come back to Nashville with a 1-1 series or down 0-2, it might not have gone their way. With the 2-0 lead, they took their foot of the gas and had their two worst games of the playoffs as the Ducks tied the series. In Game Five, they marginally improved but couldn’t break the 100 PDO mark and lost the game.
At this point, their backs were against the wall, and as a result, they played PDO-wise their two best games of the playoffs so far and won the series. Their PDO dipped significantly for games one and two of the Sharks series, as this team was exhausted and likely weren’t playing with as much urgency with a Game Seven hangover. Their PDO climbed once again in clutch game three and four wins, took a nosedive in Game Five, and ticked up again in their Game Six overtime victory.
The Predators played their best hockey in elimination games or in order to avoid elimination games, based on their PDO. Another metric we can use is High-Danger Scoring Chances For percentage. Here is that graph:
Once again, in their big games, the Predators play better, and have at least 50% of the high-danger scoring chances. The only exceptions are Game Seven of the Anaheim series, in which the Predators got peppered but still emerged with the win, and Game Four triple overtime thriller of the Sharks series, in which the Predators finished with only 48.5% of the high-danger chances. That is due to the three extra sessions and the fact that the Sharks got the majority of the opportunities in the overtime periods.
In elimination games, the Predators play some of their best hockey. In Game Six against Anaheim, the Predators had exactly half of the high-danger chances, and in Game Six against San Jose, they had 70.6% of the high-danger chances. Throughout the playoffs, when the Predators have played well, they have generated rebound goals and goals in the prime scoring area right in front of the net. They’ll need to do just that to win Game Seven against San Jose. The Sharks are a much stronger team than the Ducks, so generating only 33% of the high-danger chances won’t end well for the Predators.
If the trends continue, the Predators should continue to step their game up in tomorrow night’s big contest. Game sevens are the ultimate do-or-die showdown. They had a big night on Monday to force this game. Now they need to keep it up with their backs against the wall.
The pressure will be on. The Predators need to deliver.
Photo credit: Christina McCullough