For nearly the entire season, the Nashville Predators have been the class of the Central Division. They’ve paced the race for the division title on strong defense, stronger goaltending and offensive spark. But their five-game losing streak has some fans worried.
Rest easy, though, Predators faithful. Not much has changed in Nashville aside from the results, and over an 82-game season, sometimes it’s more about the process than anything. And when it comes to process there are few teams that can hang with the Predators.
While GM David Poile obviously isn’t pleased with dropping five games in a row, even he knows that Nashville is bound for better days.
“To this point I think we’ve probably been one of, if not the most consistent team in the NHL,” Poile told thn.com Friday. “I think it’s almost impossible not to have some sort of slump in an 82-game schedule, whether it’s because of injuries or because of schedule or just the highs and lows of the game.”
And it’s there where Nashville is having their roughest time – the highs and lows of the game. Over the course of the season, a team can have their highs and lows measured most accurately by PDO – a combination of shooting percentage and save percentage. The higher the PDO, the more puck luck a team is getting. The lower and it’s more likely you’re on a skid. In general, these times of high or low PDO coincide with the swings you see in a team’s record over a season.
On the season, the Predators have a PDO of 101.7, derived from a shooting percentage of 8.33 and save percentage of .934 when the teams are playing with five skaters a side. Before the recent slide, which began on Feb. 26, their PDO was at 102. So their last five games have been enough to drop their PDO by three-hundredths of a point, which is a significant amount for such a small portion of the season.
And by getting it done, Poile is really pointing to even strength percentages. In their past five games, Nashville has posted a 5-on-5 shooting percentage of 6.9 percent, 18th in the league since the slide began, and save percentage of .902, tied for 23rd over the same span. Their PDO? A measly 97.0, the eighth worst mark in the league since Feb. 26, below that of even the Arizona Coyotes.
What that points to is a run of mostly unlucky play. Nashville was certainly destined to fall off a bit – what team goes through an entire season without a worrisome losing streak? – but to fall into a five-game slump isn’t indicative of where this team is heading.
Are there any reasons for the slump? Some might suggest it falls in line with the acquisitions of Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli from the Toronto Maple Leafs, but that’s not the case. Franson and Santorelli suited up for consecutive Predators wins after coming over from Toronto. And new faces coinciding with a losing streak are simply coincidence, even though it does take time for the team to adjust, says Poile.
“I think there’s a little time frame of fitting in,” Poile said. “But Ryan Ellis was out and he came back last night, so I think our defense pairings are set and Franson on our defense will be real good going forward. I think the last few games we’ve been trying to rotate some situations and it hasn’t been as effective as it will be now that we have three full pairings.”
Those full pairings give Nashville one of the best defensive units in the league, too. So if it appears there’s holes in their game, that’s not the case. When it comes to shot attempts against, the Predators have allowed only 0.3 more attempts per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 during the current slide than they had prior to losing on Feb. 26. Beyond that, they’ve actually improved how many attempts they’re getting, too, but by a much wider margin.
Pre-slump, the Predators averaged 58.5 shot attempts per 60 minutes of 5-on-5, the fifth most in the NHL behind Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago and the New York Islanders. During the slump, they’ve attempted almost three more blasts, registering 61 shots per 60 minutes of 5-on-5.
You also can’t discount that this streak began with a loss to the Minnesota Wild who have the hottest goaltender in the league in Devan Dubnyk, and Nashville has since had to play the outstanding Detroit Red Wings, a team one-season removed from a Stanley Cup final in the Rangers and an Islanders team that is the best it has been in 20 years And, yet, they’ve still posted these pretty incredible advanced statistical figures during their slide.
Things will be all right in Nashville just as soon as their luck turns. It’s as simple as that. And, as Poile said, all it’s going to take is getting that power play goal when they need it or scoring the first goal. The Predators are playoff bound, and don’t be surprised if they’re the team left standing in the Central.