It wasn’t pretty, but the Nashville Predators escaped New York with four points. The first game against the Rangers was a weird one, but it was the first game of the year so it was hard to make any opinions. This second game is kind of a similar story in terms of sample size, but the Predators still looked extremely pedestrian at times.
Still, a win is a win and the Predators should feel content. But there’s a lot more to the game than what the basic stats tell us, so let’s dive in with something new.
First Line Advantage?
JoFA is one of the best first lines in the entire league, but they got beat in terms of possession. I get it, the Islanders have Mat Barzal and he was a terror all night for the Predators, but the first line is expected to drive the play out of their zone. Instead, the Islanders rode roughshod over JoFA and the Predators are lucky it didn’t affect the score.
During the 12 minutes and 31 seconds (five on five) that Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, and Viktor Arvidsson were on the ice, they were often trapped in their own zone. Their line Corsi was 40.91%, but their Fenwick was a bit better with a score of 47.06%. That’s not too surprising though, as the entire Predators team had a 7% difference between their Corsi and Fenwick at five on five. Overall possession was not a strong suit for the Predators, but they were much better once we factor in blocked shots.
The one saving grace for the first line was their high danger chances. They produced two while together and only gave up one, luckily for them, both of theirs were goals. Arvidsson had a great night on offense, as the first goal was a spectacular display of skill, while the second goal was just a great show of hockey I.Q. Hockey is 90% going to the right place at the right time, and Arvidsson did exactly that. Even though JoFA didn’t produce as many opportunities as I’d like, their conversion rate was perfect.
If you really want to get into the nitty gritty, check out Sean Tierney’s line stats. Through two games JoFA is producing 43.35 shot attempts per 60 while surrendering 51.18 shot attempts against per 60. Those are just plain bad numbers especially compared to their scoring rates. I have to believe these numbers will correct themselves and regress to a mean, whether it’s the scoring numbers or shooting numbers.
Penalty Kill Blues
The Predators seem content with being one of the most penalized teams in the NHL, and it scares me a bit. Discipline is one of the few things in hockey under a team’s control, it’s a bit ridiculous that this still seems like an issue. Although, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. It’s only game two, so let’s get past penalties and discuss how the Predators killed them.
It didn’t go well, to say the least. The Predators only surrendered four high danger chances at five on five but gave up six on the penalty kill. While teams should produce more high danger chances on the power play, six is still a lot considering that the Islanders had less than eight minutes of power play time. Luckily for the Predators, those chances only resulted in one goal, but it could’ve easily gone the other way.
Part of the issue, I believe, is that the Predators are using some more offensively minded players on the penalty kill. Johansen and Forsberg were on the ice for over a full minute, but weirdly enough they gave up the fewest high danger chances. Instead, Nick Bonino and Colton Sissons were the worst, but they also played over two and a half minutes.
I haven’t had the proper time to analyze the penalty kill, but I’m sure Mat Barzal had a hand in “out-skill”ing the defense.
Where In The World Is Kevin Fiala?
Kevin Fiala was demoted to the fourth line on Saturday for whatever reason. I imagine it was to “send a message”, but who’s to say. What we do know is that Fiala played the third-fewest minutes at five on five, and his stats took a huge dip. He had a 42.11% Corsi and a 50% Fenwick while starting 25% of his shifts in the offensive zone. Not great stats, but decent considering that he was dragging along Frederick Gaudreau and Zac Rinaldo.
What’s concerning is that he didn’t produce anything. No points, no shot attempts, no shots, no scoring chances, no high danger chances, no nothing. Well, that’s unfair, he did block two shots, but that’s it. Other than that, Fiala was pretty invisible on the ice and didn’t do much to note.
I think I’ve maybe underestimated how good Craig Smith is. He’s been an elite shooter in terms of quantity, and he’s been a bit of a crutch for Fiala. I’m not dismissing Fiala, as his ability to make defensive zone exits and offensive zone entries with possession are unparalleled on the team, but Smith may’ve been helping him in the offensive zone. I really hope that Peter Laviolette thinks that Fiala has received whatever message was being sent, so he can promptly return to the top six.
I have a lot of criticisms for Peter Laviolette’s coaching style, but I don’t actively hate this move. People forget, but Mike Babcock put Mitch Marner on the Toronto Maple Leaf’s fourth line for a few games in December, then Marner proceeded to tear the NHL apart in the latter part of the season. Maybe this will light a fire under Fiala? Again, I don’t mind this move now, but Laviolette shouldn’t dally too long on this decision or else he’ll lose the young Fiala.
All In All
All in all, Saturday’s game was a bit of mess. It was up and down, back and forth, and a bit unruly. What I’m trying to say is that it was supremely entertaining and I enjoyed the heck out of it. Especially some of the one man shows that occured. I mentioned Arvidsson’s beautiful goal, but Craig Smith and Ryan Johansen were spectacular Saturday night.
Even though I loved it as a fan, I’m worried about what I saw as an analyst. The sample size is still unforgivably small, but the concerns are real. The good news is that the Predators are coming home and have a relatively “easy” opponent in the Calgary Flames, though the Winnipeg Jets come by later that week.