Tampa Bay Lightning at Nashville Predators: GAME 20
Time: 8:00 pm Eastern Time
Location: Bridgestone Arena
Broadcast/Streaming: TVAS, FS-TN, SUN
Opponent SBNation Site: On the Forecheck
On November 1, Travis Yost wrote an article about the Nashville Predators' poor start in October. He pointed out that while the team played poorly during that stretch (going 2-5-1), the worse part is that the team looked uncompetitive.
Yost explained further that across several seasons, the Predators' eight-game rolling shot differential (or Corsi %) is at an all-time low, at 47%; nowhere near the team average under Peter Laviolette for the past few years hovers at 53%. This means that their ability to forecheck and regain possession is down, their ability to control shots is down, and the team is not playing with the same tenacity for the puck that they've become known for.
Katya Knappe, in her Predators-vs-Leafs preview, expanded upon this idea to cover the first half of November. She answered the “what is wrong with the Predators?” question by looking at high-danger shots. Much like Yost, she explains that although the team used to be really good at gaining possession of the puck and shooting it, and allowing incredibly few high-danger shots to get through to Pekka Rinne, they no longer play at this level.
In Katya’s words:
It seems like the problem is in the neutral zone. Where once they reigned unchallenged, now they aren’t building up to their fast and skilled offensive attack. The standouts at not being offensively active are Kevin Fiala, the only new forward of note who was promptly sent back to the AHL again, along with Filip Forsberg and Calle Jarnkrok.
Adding to this discussion, I decided that it would be interesting to compare average time on ice to see how Laviolette deploys players vs. Cooper, and found something interesting.
Nashville has four very reliable defensemen, Roman Josi, PK Subban, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these four take over the top four slots in average ice time. All the forwards play fewer minutes than these defenders, the fifth-highest being their best player, noted rat James Neal.
This is not the case in Tampa. Jon Cooper deploys Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman for 24 and 22 average minutes respectively, but then the team has a marked drop in deployment minutes. The next few players are Jason Garrison at 18:16, Nikita Kucherov and 18:07, and Valtteri Filppula at 18:01. (These numbers are for the first 18 games this year for Tampa, and first 16 for the Preds.)
Are the Predators suffering because they can no longer rely on their top four defensemen to adequately maintain possession? This looks likely.
The interesting question going into this game will be whether a Preds team that relies heavily on defensemen to spring the puck and maintain possession can best a Bolts team that relies heavily on forwards to forecheck and be defensively responsible. How will these two systems mesh, especially when Rinne is being hung out to dry by a team that used to suppress all of the higher-danger shots?
More questions: Will Brian Boyle remain out with his mysterious upper-body injury? Will Coop therefore run 11/7 again, or call someone up (like Tanner Richard)? Will Ben Bishop be in fighting shape after watching Vasilevskiy get back-to-back shutouts? Here's hoping he's inspired.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Ondrej Palat - Vladislav Namestnikov - Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn - Tyler Johnson - Brayden Point
Jonathan Drouin - Valtteri Filppula - Ryan Callahan
Cedric Paquette - Brian Boyle - J.T. Brown
Victor Hedman - Andrej Sustr
Jason Garrison - Nikita Nesterov
Slater Koekkoek - Braydon Coburn
Viktor Arvidsson - Ryan Johansen - James Neal
Filip Forsberg - Mike Ribeiro - Craig Smith
Colin Wilson - Mike Fisher - Pontus Aberg
Colton Sissons - Calle Jarnkrok - Austin Watson
Roman Josi - Ryan Ellis
Mattias Ekholm - PK Subban
Matt Irwin - Yannick Weber
Line information will be updated.