The Nashville Predators are officially halfway done with their regular season after falling to the Colorado Avalanche by a count of 5-3 Friday night.
The Predators looked much different in what was their 41st game of the season as they welcomed Ryan Johansen to the lineup just 48 hours after he was traded from Columbus in exchange for Nashville defenseman Seth Jones. It did not take long, just 2:35 in fact, for Johansen’s presence to be felt, as he scored on his first shot in a Nashville sweater. He also added an assist on the evening.
It looks like Ryan Johansen is going to fit in just fine with the @PredsNHL. https://t.co/Qdz8XNHUPO
— NHL (@NHL) January 9, 2016
With Johansen joining the team at the midway point of the year, it truly will be a tale of two seasons for Nashville. They now have a legitimate No. 1 center for the first time in franchise history, but they also have a spot to fill on the blue line with Jones’ absence.
If there was one word to describe Nashville’s play through the opening half of the year it would be “average.” At 19-15-7 they share the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference with the Colorado Avalanche, but hold one game in hand over Colorado.
Putting the puck into the back of the net has been Nashville’s biggest problem as they rank 18th in the league with 2.56 goals for per game. The Predators have been held to two or fewer goals in 14 of their 24 games played since November 20, going 8-12-4.
Defenseman Roman Josi leads the team in points with nine goals and 22 assists, while winger Filip Forsberg sits second on the roster with 11 goals and 16 assists. James Neal leads the team in goals scored with 15, while team captain Shea Weber has 11 goals and 15 helpers as well.
The scoring drought can not particularly be placed on the shoulders of one or two skaters, but Nashville does have two forwards that had fantastic seasons a year ago and have been far from noticeable this season. Colin Wilson leads that group with just four goals and 12 assists and fellow top-six winger Craig Smith has managed to light the lamp nine times but has just five helpers. The duo is coming off of 20- and 23-goal seasons, respectively.
As a team, the Predators are one of the top possession teams in the league with the second-best Corsi For percentage at 54.1 percent. Their Fenwick For rating of 55.5 percent shows that they are controlling play more often than not as well.
Nashville’s power play ranks eighth in the league 20 percent.
The Predators are known to have one of the top blue lines in the NHL and the group has backed up that chatter both offensively and defensively.
Nashville allows the second-fewest shots per game with 26.7 per contest and that is a testament to their defense creating havoc and traffic in their own zone. The number of blocked shots backs up that notion, as the Predators rank seventh in the league in that category with 611. Josi leads Nashville in blocked shots and sits third in the NHL with 110.
Nashville’s blue line has also possessed the puck and controlled play with their top-four of Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, Barret Jackman, Weber and Josi all recording a Fenwick For percentage of 52.5 percent or higher and a Corsi For percentage of 50.21 percent or higher.
The loss of Jones to Columbus creates a hole on the blue line — there is simply no way around that fact. Jones was Nashville’s No. 3 power play and penalty killing defenseman, had 74 shots on net and was one of their strongest possession players with a 57.92 percent Corsi For percentage.
Anthony Bitetto got the first crack at filling Jones’ void at even strength and the inexperienced d-man was noticeable, in a not-so-good way, nearly every shift he took against the Avalanche. Nashville also has Petter Granberg on their 23-man roster, and he will be given a shot to take the role of No. 5/No. 6 defenseman.
The Predators’ penalty kill has been abysmal all season as they rank 29th in the league at just 75.8 percent.
Pekka Rinne simply has not been the same goaltender the hockey world grew accustomed to seeing over the last few seasons. He is 16-13-5 on the year with a save percentage of .906 and a goals allowed average of 2.48.
The most interesting aspect of Rinne and his game this season is how he is performing at home compared to being on the road.
Pad save by Rinne then Nystrom lays down on the line. What a sequence. #Preds pic.twitter.com/haYaJOzHJA
— Mark Harris (@MCHisTweeting) January 9, 2016
Rinne has a home save percentage of .941 percent, which places him sixth among netminders with at least 500 minutes played. He is also making the big saves in front of his hometown crowd with a high-danger home save percentage of .894, which is the fifth-highest among that same set of goaltenders. Rinne is 12-5-3 at home.
On the road those numbers fall off dramatically. Rinne has the fourth-worst away save percentage (.911) among puck stoppers with 500 minutes played. Making the tough saves has been a major struggle away from Nashville as well, as he has the worst high-danger away save percentage of .740 while going 4-8-3 on the road.
And, it is not as if the Predators are allowing a plethora of more shots per 60 minutes on the road (25.7) than they are at home (25.5).
The Predators’ No. 2 puck stopper, Carter Hutton, has had some success in silencing his critics this season. While seeing action in just five games, he has posted a 3-1-1 record while allowing 2.95 goals per contest. His save percentage of .895 is nothing to boast about, but securing seven of a possible 10 points is.
All in all, the Predators were not great, but not awful either in the first half of the season. With the addition of Johansen, the offense could reach a height they have never seen before. The Predators should have a better second half of the season.