It’s the holiday season and the Nashville Predators are looking to dig themselves out of the hole that they established after a dreadful November. Nevertheless, there’s a lot of hockey left and enough time for the Predators to right the ship. However, they will need a few things on their Christmas wish list in order to help with the challenge ahead of them.
So, what should be on the Predators’ list this year?
Reliable Special Teams
The Predators were infamous last season, holding the title of the league’s worst power play. Fans and critics know that the Predators’ efficiency when on the man-advantage was a horrific 12.9 percent. When Nashville needed the advantage the most – in the playoffs – the power play was still nowhere to be found, failing to score a single goal.
This season was supposed to be different. General manager David Poile hired Dan Lambert, a power-play specialist of sorts. Lambert worked wonders with the man-advantage with the Western Hockey League’s Spokane Chiefs as the head coach and even with the Buffalo Sabres when he was on the coaching staff back in 2015-16. The Predators were even able to add to the on-ice talent with Matt Duchene. He didn’t have many power-play goals the season prior, but he still gives the Predators’ special team a different look and more options.
Yet it seems just like last season, the Predators don’t have any real “advantage” when on the power play. The Predators are operating at 15.6 percent when on the man advantage and sit 25th in the league for the respective category. They have the talent, but for whatever reason, the Predators cannot seem to convert their opportunities when they get them on a consistent basis – the keyword being ‘consistent’. Nashville’s power play does not look hopeless every game. The Predators’ 8-3 drubbing of the New York Islanders featured a Predators’ power play that went 2-for-5 and the game after against the Ottawa Senators, Nashville converted one of their two man-advantage opportunities.
However, so far throughout the month of December, the Predators have been on the power play 35 times and have converted on five of those opportunities. As mentioned, the Predators are working to overcome a massive disadvantage that they’ve encountered thanks to a month worth of poor play, and they’ve managed to string some wins together. However, 5-for-35 equates to 14.3 percent, a slightly worse efficiency than what they’ve experienced throughout the whole season. Even when the Predators are winning, experiencing better puck-luck, and players aren’t “snake-bitten,” the power play still cannot be relied on – something that clearly needs to change.
Last season the Predators’ special teams were saved by their penalty kill – operating at 82 percent – the sixth-best in the league. However, this season the Predators’ penalty is underperforming as well. Nashville has been able to kill off 77.1 percent of the penalties they have taken, which ranks 24th in the NHL.
Having experienced the dreadful power play last season fans seemingly have come to accept the lackluster results when a player from the opposing team takes a seat in the penalty box. However, over the past handful of seasons, the Predators have been a strong penalty killing team. Maybe this half-season lull is just an anomaly. But, if the poor trend with both special teams continues much longer after the short Christmas break the Predators will run into more disappointment.
A Go-To Scorer
It’s been mentioned time and time again; the Predators’ offensive corps is strong enough and talented enough to be envied by many teams. However, the Predators seem to lack that “go-to-guy.” Fans know who should be counted on to score a big goal, but don’t know who can be trusted to come through in the clutch.
Duchene had a lot of hype entering this season and many thought he could be the answer for the Predators to reach the next level. Although the former all-star has been an asset, he hasn’t recorded the numbers that fans expected and hoped for when he signed his seven-year, $56-million deal during the summer. Duchene has eight goals and 15 assists in 34 games. Obviously, not terrible stats, but it leaves a lot to be desired, especially when considering that players such as Logan Couture and Steven Stamkos have similar contracts.
Roman Josi is Nashville’s leading scorer, which is no surprise. He’s been on fire all season. The captain has 14 goals – which is tied for the team lead – 21 assists for 35 points. Josi ranks 24th in the league for points, yet he still has nine more points than Filip Forsberg, the Predators’ highest-scoring forward.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing that the top-two Predators’ scorers are defensemen, for many years that’s how the team has operated. But at a certain point, you must be able to lean on your top forwards for production. As mentioned, Forsberg has the most points among Predators forwards, but he ranks 88th in the league.
The last time the Predators saw a player eclipse the 70-point mark in a single season came back in 2007-08 when J-P Dumont recorded 72 points. With the names donning the gold uniforms, this seems like the best chance the Predators have for someone to break the franchise’s single-season points record set by Paul Kariya.
A Clear Number One Goalie
The plan was always to slowly transition to Juuse Saros as the number one goaltender for the Predators. It seemed weird there would be a day where the big, 6-foot-5 Finnish goalie Pekka Rinne was not a regular feature, but the day was always coming. However, even with Rinne’s starts decreasing each year, he was still expected to be the predominant starter this season. The former Vezina winner might be considered the number one – he has started in six more games than his backup. But this season is starting to feel like the Predators are veering from the initial plan slightly.
Fans have seen something they haven’t in years, if ever: Saros start three consecutive games that weren’t a result of an injury to Rinne. Even though his stats don’t currently show, Saros has played a lot better as of late. Over the past month, Saros has seen his goals against average (GAA) dip back under 3.00 and his save percentage rise to .900. He clearly has more work to do to get those numbers to the starter and elite caliber level he is capable of, but his numbers may not tell the true story of his play this season.
Two things must be considered with the goalie situation. One, the Predators performance for parts of this season has really hurt both goalies’ stats, so the numbers are not a true representation of how either one of them has played. Second, with the consecutive starts Saros has seen this season, combined with the way he has commanded the role, there is a feeling that Rinne is starting to lose his grip on the starting job earlier than we thought he might.
If both Rinne and Saros are playing well, there’s no problem with playing them both equally. After all, it worked for the New York Islanders last season where both Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss split duties, with Lehner starting 43 games and Greiss starting 39.
But if either of the Predators goalies get hot, Nashville must accept them as the starter if the other is struggling. This includes seeing Rinne on the bench a lot more than fans are used to if Saros emerges as the better option, despite the sentimental investment every member of the Predators faithful have in the goalie they have known for well over a decade.