Nashville Predators’ head coach John Hynes was approaching his 30th game for his new team. Yeah 30, time flies, right? The 30th time behind the Predators’ bench was scheduled for Mar. 14 against the Columbus Blue Jackets. But, with the league “on pause” due to health concerns, the milestone for Hynes will have to wait.
However, there is still enough of a resume to check in on Hynes and the job he is doing while leading a Predators team with extremely high standards and expectations. The team’s last game before the unscheduled break was a 4-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens, extending the winning streak to three.
To be exact, Hynes’ has led the team for 28 games so far. The head coaching change was made after Peter Laviolette couldn’t seem to get the Predators out of a slump that had plagued them for several months. Obviously, the team was never able to turn the corner with Laviolette and general manager David Poile relieved him of his duties and quickly brought in Hynes.
So, has this been a move for the better? Have the issues that were hurting the Predators under Laviolette been resolved under Hynes?
Since stepping in, Hynes is 16-11-1. The Predators’ record with their new bench boss isn’t exactly a complete turnaround, but Hynes has never been coveted as a coach who can quickly change the fortunes of a team.
After being hired immediately after Laviolette’s departure, Hynes mentioned that he noticed deficiencies in the Predators’ game, likely contributing to their struggles. For one, the Predators’ attitude after giving up goals or being down in the game was a problem. This sentiment was echoed by forward Rocco Grimaldi during an interview back in January.
“It feels like when we go down 1-0 or 2-0, it seems like we’re just kind of dead on the bench,” Grimaldi said. “That’s something we’ve got to take out of our game. We’re going to get down in games, it’s going to happen. We’re going to get down by a couple goals, but we can’t just kind of sit and be like, ‘Oh, here we go again.’ (from ‘Mental Toughness Has Been Predators’ Biggest Battle, Nashville Post, 01/17/2020).
This was arguably the Predators’ biggest issue under Laviolette. Before making the switch to Hynes, the Predators were 19-15-7. Sixteen of those 19 wins came from games where they opened the scoring. If the Predators trailed first in a game, it was like a completely different team. Again, during Laviolette’s tenure, the Predators played in 17 games where the opposition scored first — their record from those games was 3-10-4.
Look, it’s become a cliché in sports to start fast and set the tempo. You constantly hear stats about how difficult it is to win games when you trail first. It’s understandable, and there are going to be games where you trail, but elite teams find ways to push through. It’s why you hear buzz words from players and coaches like “resiliency” and “mental toughness.” It just didn’t seem like the Predators had either one during the first half of this season, and John Hynes knew it before ever really getting established.
“I think that we know one of the biggest things in sports is you have to have mental toughness,” Hynes said. “You have to have some fortitude to be able to push through things, mental focus. I think that when you really look at today’s game… focus level, doing your job, paying attention to detail. Those things need to be tighter. These are all little detail things that need to be addressed.”
There’s still work to be done. Hynes seems to address little aspects at a time, rather than concentrating on a complete overhaul of a system, which means the improvement is gradual.
Since switching coaches, the Predators have trailed first in 15 games, and their record during those games is 5-10-0. So, you can see that the change — from a stats standpoint — isn’t night and day, but there is improvement. You may have noticed the clarifier, “from a stats standpoint,” and you might be wondering why that’s important. Well, if you watch the Predators, the energy is visibly different with a different voice behind the bench.
Now when the team falls behind, there’s often a significant push back. It may not always show in the stats or the standings — evident by the record shown above — but there’s more fight in this team now. They don’t roll over and the bench certainly doesn’t look dead.
Have They Truly Fixed the Issues that Plagued Them?
One glaring weakness that haunted the Predators during the first half of the season was the number of goals they gave up. They were a fast, up-tempo type of team that could score in bunches under Laviolette’s guidance. However, early this season the offence was more a necessity than a luxury. Through the first 41 games of the season, the Predators allowed 3.27 goals against (GA), which ranked 24th.
Since then, the Predators have allowed 2.86 GA, which ranks 13th during that span. There is a clear emphasis on defensive responsibility with Hynes. It was no secret that Laviolette not only allowed for the defense to jump up in the rush, he encouraged it. Hynes doesn’t seem to share the same pro-offensively minded mentality.
This is not to say that the Predators’ defensive corps are now stay-at-home defensemen. Watch any game and you’ll see Roman Josi or Mattias Ekholm driving offensive attacks — you’d be foolish to leash that talent.
However, sometimes you need to look deeper into the stats. As mentioned, Laviolette’s Predators allowed 3.27 GA and Hynes’ has allowed 2.86, so Hynes has been an improvement, right? Well, not so fast. This could be the Juuse Saros effect (trademark pending).
This basically means, maybe the Predators’ GA stats are better because they have given much of the work to the goaltender who’s playing at a far higher level and less to do with coaching.
Laviolette leaned on Pekka Rinne and Hynes seems to prefer Saros. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Predators allowed 7.8 high-danger scoring chances (HDSC) against per game under Laviolette, and with Hynes, they’re allowing 9.9 per game. With Laviolette, 14 percent of such chances against resulted in goals, and so far under Hynes, 13 percent have resulted in goals. The latter part to those stats are close, but over time you can see how — on the face of it — Hynes may look better.
What About the Offence?
Especially of late, the Predators are seriously struggling to score goals. Under Barry Trotz, the Predators were a defensively built and run team — they played it safe, some might say boring. Then Laviolette introduced a new, fast, exciting and attack-first style offensive, something that continued every season, including 2019-20. Despite the struggles with Laviolette, the Predators were still able to produce 3.44 goals-for per game, the 6th best in the league during that span.
With Hynes, the offence has looked completely different. During the 28 games of new leadership, the Predators’ goals-for sits at 2.54, ranking 25th. Now, that difference is night and day. But, it’s only fair to look a little beyond those stats. After all, it’s no secret the Predators’ top weapons are not producing to the standard that is expected of them.
However, the stats don’t exactly exonerate Hynes of criticism for this tepid offence. The Predators currently average 7.9 HDSC for and 13% of those chances have resulted in goals. With Laviolette, the Predators averaged 8.3 HDSC for, with 20% resulting in goals.
Hynes has made an improvement on the special teams — an aspect of the game that has been so unkind to the Predators that fans cringe at the very term power play. But maybe that twitch is improving. With Laviolette, the Predators’ power play clicked at a 16.8% efficiency, under Hynes they’re operating at 18.1%. Flipping to the penalty kill side, the Predators killed 74% of the penalties they took with their old coach. With Hynes, they have a 79.3% success rate.
Before this is used as material to criticize the hiring of Hynes, remember replacing a coach mid-season — especially one in his sixth season with the team — can be like trying to catch a moving train. Laviolette’s system was ingrained in the core of the Predators.
It will take time for the Predators to truly resemble what Hynes is about. He’s trying to repair a broken house brick by brick rather than demolishing and starting over. We might not have seen the best of him and his best version of the Predators yet.
However, it’s important to remember that Hynes was able to get the team into a playoff position, something they hadn’t seen since November. The stats may not be a great endorsement for Hynes, but you can’t argue with the results, which is all that should matter when it comes to the approval of the job he is currently doing.