After such a strong start to the season, if someone would have said that the Nashville Predators would barely be hanging onto the final Wild Card spot in mid-January, few would have believed it.
Despite their impressive play out of the gates to go along with a 11-3-3 record, that is exactly where Nashville stands as they are tied with the Colorado Avalanche with 45 points besting them in the standings thanks to one game in hand.
Since Nov. 17, the Predators have not looked like a playoff team, they haven’t been consistent and to put it simply, they have been a below-average club. Since mid-November, the team has posted a record of 8-14-4, including six separate losing streaks compared to just one set of back-to-back wins. They’ve scored two or fewer goals in 16 of their last 26 games and currently find themselves on a 0-4-0 skid.
There isn’t just one part of their game to pinpoint their poor play to, rather a plethora of things the team has been doing poorly this season.
The Penalty Kill Has Simply Been Horrid
The Predators rank 29th in the NHL with a penalty kill percentage of 76.2 percent, while allowing the fourth-most goals while short-handed with 28. During their current 8-14-4 slide, they have managed to kill off just 72 percent of the penalties they have faced.
Physical forwards Paul Gaustad, Eric Nystrom, Austin Watson and Mike Fisher highlight what, at first glance, makes up a strong group of penalty killers accompanied by defensemen Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Barret Jackman and Mattias Ekholm. While those set of skaters makes up a good penalty killing group on paper, they have been far from effective on the ice.
The Predators are doing a good job at suppressing and blocking their opponents shots while on the PK, allowing the ninth-fewest amount of short-handed shots (172). This presents the notion that their last line of defense, Pekka Rinne, isn’t making the big saves the hockey world has been accustomed to seeing.
Pekka Rinne Is Not Making The Big Saves
During five-on-five play Rinne has been just fine if looking at his overall save percentage of .926. He has also managed to stop 97.7 percent of low-danger shots faced and 92.9 percent of medium-danger shots. It is high-danger save percentage that is a cause for concern.
High-danger shots come via the high-slot, the right and left slots, the inner half of each face off circle and center point.
Among the 27 goalies that have played at least 1,000 minutes this season, Rinne holds the seventh-worst high-danger save percentage at .821.
Stats entering this game:
Corey Crawford: 35 GP, 23-10-2, 2.21 GAA, .926 SV.
All-Star Pekka Rinne: 35 GP, 16-13-6, 2.48 GAA, .906 SV.
— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) January 13, 2016
Put the Predators on the penalty kill and Rinne’s numbers drop off even more drastically.
Rinne’s short-handed save percentage of .822 is not only the worst among goaltenders with at least 26 games played this season, but 12th-worst among all netminders to play at the NHL level this year. When looking at his short-handed high-danger save percentage of .577, he holds the bottom spot among goalies with at least 13 games played this season and sixth-worst overall among all NHL puck-stoppers.
While the fingers can not solely be pointed in Rinne’s direction for the team’s struggles, he certainly has not been a bright spot by any means. It is worth noting that the Predators allow the second fewest even-strength shots per 60 minutes in the league (25.6) as well as the fifth-fewest short-handed shots per 60 minutes (48.8).
The Goal Scoring Drought
The Predators seem to be doing everything right in order to put the puck into the back of the net, but it simply is not happening as they rank 19th in the league with 2.49 goals per game.
Tonight was the ninth time this season that the Predators have scored two or fewer goals on 35 or more shots in a game.
— Adam Vingan (@AdamVingan) January 13, 2016
Nashville has out-shot their opponent in 26 of their 43 games played, ranks fifth in the NHL with 31.2 shots per contest, sits 12th in the league with 27.1 scoring chances for per 60 minutes and holds the top scoring chance differential at 208. They also hold the second best high-danger scoring chance differential of 103 to add to the mystery of why this team has not been able to consistently light the lamp.
While their high-danger scoring chances differential is impressive, they rank 13th overall with 363 high-danger chances of their own. The differential may be a better representation of the team’s defensive play and getting into those high-danger areas may need to be a bigger point of emphasis.
The glaring statistic that explains Nashville averaging fewer than 2.5 goals per night is their 25th-ranked on-ice shooting percentage of 8.0 percent.
Notable individual player shooting percentages in 43 games this season compared to last season:
Filip Forsberg: 10.23 percent, 11.1 percent
James Neal: 10.42 percent, 11.7 percent
Colin Wilson: 1.69 percent, 13.4 percent
Craig Smith: 8.51 percent, 9.6 percent
Mike Fisher: 8.82 percent, 13.1 percent
Shea Weber: 4.92 percent, 8.6 percent
Roman Josi: 4.35 percent, 4.9 percent
Craig Smith and Colin Wilson combined for 43 goals last season, have combined for 13 goals this season.
While the top-six and top two pairings have not been scoring at a consistent rate, the bottom-six has not helped the cause much either.
Top-six forwards Mike Ribeiro, Forsberg, Neal, Wilson, Smith and Fisher have been responsible for 50 of the 74 goals scored by Nashville forwards this season.
The addition of Ryan Johansen should bolster Nashville’s offense and his impact has already been felt with one goal and two helpers in his three games played with the Predators. Since Johansen joined the club the team has gone 0-3-0, however, and the shakeups in the lineups continued as Cody Hodgson was placed on waivers and Viktor Arvidsson was reassigned to AHL Milwaukee on Wednesday.
With Arvidsson reassigned and Hodgson, who cleared waivers Thursday and was reassigned to AHL Milwaukee, the Predators recalled forwards Kevin Fiala and Cody Bass in hopes to bring a different element to the lineup.
Fiala is labeled as one of Nashville’s top prospects and has six goals and 15 assists in 34 games with AHL Milwaukee this year. He played in two games for the Predators last season. Cody Bass has one goal and four helpers in 21 games with Milwaukee.
The Predators are reeling and hanging onto a playoff spot at the moment. January has been and will continue to be a brutal month as they have just three home games opposed to nine on the road. They close out January on a four-game Western Canada swing, but then will have eight home games in the month of February so there is a flash of optimism.
All stats via War On Ice.