Naturally, many observers are quick to point to the biggest difference between last season and this season as the reason for this: P.K. Subban. However, when the numbers get crunched, the idea that Subban is behind the Predators’ struggles couldn’t be further from the truth.
Tweets like these come in comparing the Predators’ season to the Montreal Canadiens with the newly-acquired Shea Weber.
— Vrai Montrealer (@expos4ever) November 4, 2016
Yes, the Canadiens have been off to a hot start, and the Predators haven’t, but as you’ll see, that’s not because of Subban.
First, at the basic level of statistical analysis, Subban is tied for second on the team in points with six (two goals, four assists). He is contributing on the offensive end, and is showing it on the score sheet. Meanwhile, defensemen like Mattias Ekholm and Yannick Weber have just two points (two assists). He is clearly producing points, and making his presence known on the offensive end.
Diving deeper, the numbers show Subban has been a generally good shot-metric player. According to Corsica, Subban has a 49.30 Corsi for percentage (measures shot attempts for/against while on the ice), good for third amongst Predators defensemen, and a 50.19 Fenwick for percentage (ratio of unblocked shot attempts for/against while on the ice).
The reason for the difference between the two metrics is Subban has been good at shot blocking. His total Corsi against 180 but his Fenwick against is 134. So, in general, he hasn’t been perfect shot-wise, but he hasn’t been bad by any stretch of the imagination.
In addition, he leads Predators defensemen in scoring chances for percentage at 62%, which measures the ratio of scoring chances for and against while he’s on the ice. In short, while Subban is out there, the Predators are generating more “scoring chances” than their opponents.
He leads the team in Corsi for, Fenwick for, and scoring chances for, meaning he generates more offense than any other defenseman. However, he is the worst amongst Predators defensemen in on-ice goals for percentage at 20% (two goals scored to eight goals against). Why might that be?
There are a number of factors that deflect the blame for this away from Subban. First, according to Puckalytics.com, the majority of faceoffs he’s been on the ice for have been in the defensive zone. 38.13% of the faceoffs he’s been on the ice for have been in the defensive zone, compared with 33.09% of his faceoffs taking place in the offensive zone and 28.78% taking place in the neutral zone. That percentage of defensive zone starts is the highest percentage amongst Predators defenseman. That affects how many goals he’s been on the ice for, as he’s had to spend more time in the defensive zone than other defenseman. If he has to spend more time in the defensive zone, he’ll naturally be on the ice for more goals.
In addition, part of the blame might go to goaltender Pekka Rinne. His defensemen in front of him have actually helped him out big time, but the 34-year-old netminder hasn’t reciprocated.
According to Corsica, the majority of shots that Rinne has faced have been “low-danger shots.” He’s faced 91 low-danger shots, seventh-most amongst NHL goaltenders that have played 240 minutes or more. As he should, he’s stopped 98.90% of those low-danger shots, fifth-best in the NHL.
Meanwhile, Rinne’s faced 61 medium-danger shots and 34 high-danger shots. Those 34 high-danger shots are 12th-fewest in the NHL. But, he has done a terrible job at stopping those high danger chances. His 67.65 save percentage against high-danger shots is second-worst amongst NHL goalies.
So, in layman’s terms, defensemen like Subban have been keeping opposing offenses to the perimeter and holding them to mainly low-danger chances, but when they do let up high-danger shots, Rinne doesn’t seem to be able to stop many of them.
In sum, those who blame Subban for the Predators’ sluggish start are ignoring a number of other factors, like a disparity in zone starts and lackluster goaltending.
Yes, the Canadiens and Weber are doing very well right now (aside from that 10-0 thumping from Columbus).
Yes, the Predators aren’t.
No, the trade is not the reason why.
The Predators have a few issues to solve if they are going to improve, but Subban is not one of them.