Meet The Rivals: Nashville Predators

Travis Hrubeniuk
September 19 2013 10:36AM

 

Finally, after two long and rather ridiculous seasons that saw the Winnipeg Jets based out of the Southeast, the league has undergone re-alignment and have the team in a realistic division: The Central. All week I will provide a preview of the Jets new Divisional Rivals, giving you with a brief review of last years’ stats, each team's potential opening day lineup, strengths and weaknesses, and a few major storylines (both Jet and non-Jet related). Today we review the suddenly sliding Nashville Predators.

The Nashville Predators

Scheduled Meetings

  • October 20th – Winnipeg
  • October 24th – Nashville
  • November 8th – Winnipeg
  • January 28th – Winnipeg
  • March 1st – Nashville

2012-13 Review

 

Predators

Jets

Record (Point %)

16-23-9 (.427) – 14th in West

24-21-3 (.531) – 9th in East

Home/Away

11-9-4

5-14-5

13-10-1

11-11-2

Goals/Game

2.27 – 29th

2.62 – 16th

Goals Against/Game

2.77 – 20th

2.94 – 25th

Power play %

17.1% - 17th

13.8% - 30th

Pentalty Kill %

75.5% - 29th

79.7% - 24th

Fenwick Close %

45.88%

49.71%

5v5 Corsi For %

46.7%

49.5%

PDO

996

995

Opening Day Projected Lineup:

Stalberg – Fisher – Wilson
Beck – Cullen – Hornqvist/Forsberg
Nystrom – Legwand – Forsberg/Hornqvist
Clune – Gaustad – Hendricks
 
Josi – Weber
Klein – Jones
Ellis – Bartley
 
Rinne
Hutton
 
Additions: Jones, Cullen, Stalberg, Nystrom, Hendricks
Subtractions: Gill, Halischuk, Brennan, Kostitsyn

Strengths and Weaknesses

The Preds have been a team constantly lacking in one particular area:

Goal Scoring

There are only three things that are certain in this world: death, taxes, and the Nashville Predators having trouble scoring goals. Well, I guess that’s not entirely true as they did finish 8th in scoring a couple years ago, but otherwise the Preds have been anything but a scoring powerhouse. To David Poile’s credit, he has taken steps this offseason to ensure his team won’t finish in the embarrassing 29th goals/game standing they did last season. Matt Cullen finished 4th in Minnesota with 27 points last year, and Viktor Stalberg was 5th in Chicago with 23, which would have placed them 1st and 2nd in Preds scoring. Still, these two are far from offensive powerhouses, meaning Nashville will likely have to continue their search for a reliable goal scorer moving forward. Expect them to improve, but not take a giant leap offensively this year.

Play on the Road

Nashville’s defensive style of play has often led to them being a decent, if not excellent road team in the past, so their struggles in that field led to an abysmal road record last season. As I’ll explain shortly, there is reason to believe that an improved defensive-core will lead to that record improving. That being said, the defensemen are going to be young, so there is a good chance this won’t improve to the degree needed to be successful. Therefore, for now it remains a weakness.

Overall, Nashville has been a team that has managed to keep the puck out of the net. They hiccupped last year following the departure of Ryan Suter, but there is reason to believe they will get back to their old ways in making it a strength this year:

Defensive Play

There are a lot of factors that have contributed to my saying that the Predators defensive play will be a strength again this year. First, is the removal of Sergei Kostitsyn paired with the acquisition of Eric Nystrom. Simply put, Sergei wasn't exactly the most defensively focused player in the NHL last year, as highlighted by this terrible decision leading to an Oilers shorthanded 2 on 1:

Eric Nystrom was relied on for his “shut down” and defensive abilities in Dallas, and will be expected to lead the Preds bottom-6 towards a more protective mindset. The second reason is the addition of Phil Housley to the coaching staff. Housley is an HHOF-inductee defenseman and was the head coach of the Gold Medal winning United States World Junior team last winter. He will be able to provide the young Nashville defensemen, and even the experienced Shae Weber, with valuable pointers and help as they grow as a unit. The final reason is an overall improved and better adjusted blue line. Young Ryan Ellis should be ready to take a step out of his protected role. First round pick Seth Jones is a strong candidate to make the team out of camp and make an immediate impact. Shae Weber is a year removed from his old partner Ryan Suter, and he and sophomore Roman Josi have become a solid top line pairing. As a whole the group looks to be back on the upswing, and although there will be some bumps along the road, this group may become a strong wall in front of Pekka Rinne.

Goaltending

Yes, Pekka had a "tough" year last season. There is little doubt though that the career .920 SV%, 2.36 GAA goalie from Finland won’t bounce back from his .910% & 2.43 stats last year. (I just need to point out that these “down year” numbers are far superior to Pavelec’s career numbers of .907 SV% & 2.95 GAA). Goaltending will once again be a strength for the Nashville Predators. Especially when you factor in the improved defensive play.

Storylines Entering the Season

How Will The Young Defensemen Play?

Seth Jones has reportedly had a strong training camp. Heck, there are rumours floating that he may have a shot to play along Shea Weber this season (unlikely, and probably stupid, but the rumours are there). Ryan Ellis has been protected like a young lamb throughout his two seasons in Nashville. Should my rather bold prediction of improved defensive play come true, it will rely quite heavily on both of these young men stepping up and producing at a high level. Ellis is entering the final year of his entry-level contract, and if he wants to avoid the bridge contracts that are all the rage right now, he is going to have to earn it. I’m not saying he needs to be a Norris-caliber guy (that’s Weber’s job) but he has to be able to play consistently against tougher competition.

Will They Score?

With the additions of Matt Cullen and Viktor Stalberg, scoring is expected to increase in Nashville this year. Young Filip Forsberg will be fighting to make the squad out of training camp, and proving he can put the puck in the net will be a huge factor in that decision. This will remain a question in Nashville until they prove they can score on a regular basis.

What about zone entries?

It was floated around twitter recently that Barry Trotz has altered his team's zone entries to have carry-ins and fewer dump-ins, based on the advanced analytic theory that the former leads to considerably more offence. It may be the greatest test for this theory we've seen, given the under-talented forward core intending to utilize it. But for stat nerds, this will be one of the most interesting stories of the year to follow.

Conclusion

Games against the Nashville Predators are probably going to be painfully boring to watch. Well, at least the majority of them will be. This is a team that is coached to give up very little, has a great goaltender, and will do everything they can to keep games low scoring. It’s what they do.

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I write things, you read them. Then tend to yell at me for them. It's okay though, I'm from Winnipeg. I can take it. If you actually do like what I write, give me a twitter follow here (@thrubeniuk): https://twitter.com/thrubeniuk
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