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Predators Woes Reaching Critical Mass

Predators Woes Reaching Critical Mass

Playoffs?! Don’t talk about playoffs! Are you kidding me? Playoffs?! I’m just hoping we can win a game, another game!” 

The famous quote from former NFL head coach Jim Mora has never rang more true for the Nashville Predators. Following a 7-1-1 stretch that brought the Predators back into the thick of the Western Conference, they have experienced a five-game losing streak (0-3-2) where they have been outscored 17-8. Nashville now stands at 12-12-4 and is falling down the wild card standings. In front of them leading up to the Christmas roster freeze are dates with Colorado (x2), Edmonton and Chicago, two of which Nashville has not had much success against recently. The Predators could realistically hit the holiday having lost 8 of 9 and sitting well outside the playoff picture.

Across the losing streak, the Predators’ defense and goaltending have largely held up their end, only surrendering up 7 goals at 5v5 in regulation though they have been regularly outshot. The defense has had some good moments but having four NHL regulars out of the lineup with injuries is clearly making it difficult to consistently prevent chances. This difference has been especially impactful on the penalty kill where in the four games prior to the OT loss at Winnipeg the Predators had surrendered 5 goals on just 13 shorthanded chances. Could an extra killed penalty have made the difference versus Ottawa or Edmonton? Hard to say for sure but one less goal on the board plus a little momentum could have been the difference between a regulation loss and at least an overtime point. All that being said though, a good team should be able to overcome 18 goals across 5 games to collect at least a couple wins and highlights that the biggest issue continues to be with the Predators’ offense. Simply put, scoring 8 goals in 5 games with zero power play contribution will not win you many games and is reaching unacceptable levels of impotence.

These are not new issues as only Chicago has scored fewer goals thus far this season but the gap between the Predators and contending teams is growing ever wider. When I wrote back in November about the Predators lack of offensive production I focused on the players not executing more than systemic or personnel issues. Now that the offense has continued to decline there does have to be a broader discussion on where the fix could be found. John Hynes and the coaching staff as well as the front office need to fall under a critical eye for the team that is taking the ice every game and the systems they are following to try and find success.

Do the players still need to be better? Absolutely. From game to game the offensive share is almost exclusively slanted to the side of the opposing team and even within the game the Predators rarely put together consecutive periods where they hold the advantage. The power play is tragic to watch as the Predators can rarely get set up, show little player movement to create lanes and almost giving up more chances than they’re creating. Through 28 games there are some very concerning individual statistics:

  • Only one player has hit double digits in goals (Niederreiter)
  • Only three have topped 20 points (Forsberg, Josi, Duchene)
  • Only one player has more than 2 power-play goals (Josi – 4)
  • Tanner Jeannot hasn’t scored a goal since October 27th
  • Alexandre Carrier has one point

There is plenty of blame to go across the roster for the Predators’ complete inability to score with even a league-average regularity. The lack of scoring and volume of scoring chances has also created a situation where players (looking at you Mikael Granlund) have started trying to make the perfect play instead of just getting a puck to the net. Across the lineup, the decision-making with the puck has to be faster and when the shot is there, take it and try to create a rebound. The top of the lineup needs to bring more to the table and the players expected to provide depth scoring have not been able to bring any consistent threat to take pressure off the top scorers. 

This brings us to the coaching staff, lineup decisions and systems. I have written before that John Hynes’ offensive system being focused on attacking dangerous areas somewhat naturally prevents the Predators from being a high-shot share team. That concept works if, like last season, the players are finishing at an elite level but when the scoring dries up there is no volume to fall back on. Nashville also relies heavily on chances off the rush but the Predators have struggled to exit their zone with control to turn defense into offense so the rush chances are limited. With the power play, the coaching staff has to make system adjustments to create faster puck and player movement to create shooting lanes because the “pass it around until you blast away from the outside or turn the puck over” system simply isn’t working. The coaching staff needs to rethink the structure from the back end forward to more effectively translate defense into offense and get more pucks going to the net.

When it comes to lineup decisions John Hynes has pulled out the ole line blender trying to find a spark. As a result, Ryan Johansen is seeing a different set of wingers almost every game and not finding any chemistry or consistency. Then Cody Glass, who has been one of the most effective forwards, is averaging less than 10 minutes of 5v5 time while Mikael Granlund, who is visibly struggling with the puck, sees closer to 14 minutes. And we have to talk about Eeli Tolvanen. Did Tolvanen struggle to start the season? Absolutely, but he was hardly alone in that. When the coaching staff saw the lack of scoring in the lineup how do you not give someone of his talents better opportunities to find his groove? Instead, Michael McCarron, Kiefer Sherwood and Zach Sanford who are less talented offensively and no more effective defensively saw those minutes. Tolvanen was not the make-or-break player for the season but it highlights the preference for identity over skill which is being reflected in the offensive results. John Hynes needs to build out a lineup that provides more opportunity for the skilled, effective forwards to be impactful while creating space for the depth players to fill their identity roles. More importantly, he needs to stick with it longer than a game or two.

Looking at the personnel overall, the Predators roster as it stands simply isn’t working. I won’t retroactively say the offseason was a mistake because I applauded the work to move on from some veteran players to open up roster spots, upgrade the 2nd line (Niederreiter) and enhance the defense (McDonagh). On the surface, the additions to the lineup plus growth from Philip Tomasino should have been enough to offset the likely regression. However, the regression from last season’s multitude of career seasons has turned out to be across the board and Tomasino showed in camp that perhaps he needs more seasoning before holding a full-time top 6 roster spot. The current Predators forward group can’t consistently generate scoring chances and now can’t finish them either. The Nashville front office seems to still have its eyes on the playoffs so what can be done to change the makeup? I don’t think a change to the coaching staff is imminent given John Hynes was just extended and David Poile is not one for rash decisions on coaches. And unfortunately, not much can be done right now with the roster. The myriad of defensive injuries combined with the relative proximity to the salary cap limit makes the roster difficult to manage which played into the eventual waiving of Eeli Tolvanen to create roster and cap space. Per Cap Friendly, the Predators have just $1.4M of current cap space which barring a salary-out/salary-in type of trade does not make an upgrade easy to accomplish. If the decision is to scrap this season and set the stage for ‘23-24 then the obvious question becomes if this front office is the right group to chart that path. The changing of the guard at the ownership level to Bill Haslam may just feel like it’s time to start making his mark on the team.

In summary, there is no clear road for the Predators right now. The offense, especially the power play, is painful to watch right now and not contributing to the team’s success. Injuries have hindered roster flexibility so in the short term it’s on the players to be better (a lot better) and the current coaching staff to make the right system and lineup decisions. John Hynes pushed the right buttons last season and will once again need to figure out how to get the most out of his players. If he can’t then he will see his seat warming from more than just the fanbase. For the players, they need to find the pace and execution to start turning in full-game performances and get out of the offensive basement. If they don’t, those at the top of the lineup especially may see their ice time reduced similar to the end of the 20-21 season. As of today a change in the front office won’t impact the on-ice product much but if improvements aren’t seen, or found, soon then a new group may be brought in to chart the path forward for the Nashville Predators. There are more questions than answers right now, and everyone holds responsibility for finding ways to get back on track. 

Standings, Statistics and Salary Cap Information courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, and Cap Friendly

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