The Nashville Predators reached 100 points on the year for just the fifth time in franchise history in Thursday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Nashville has 14 points still on the table — enough to break their franchise record of 110 set by the 2006–07 squad. In sixty minutes, the Predators reminded us why they are one of the top teams in the league, and not just because of their proficiency at different sports (including baseball and soccer). They positioned themselves for, and took advantage of, non-traditional scoring chances. Even though they were outshot 30–19, the Predators make their scoring chances count. And while a strategy of throwing the puck on the net might work against some teams, the 99 point Tampa Bay Lightning probably isn’t one of them. On the other side of the rink, Nashville’s stout defense is excellent at limiting the quality of opponent’s scoring chances.
Grounding the Lightning
The Predators beat the Lightning to 100 points by searching for high quality scoring chances. With last night’s win, the Predators and Lightning swapped spots: the Predators jumped up to third in the league from sixth, behind just the New York Rangers and the Anaheim Ducks, while the Lightning slid from third back to sixth.
Last night’s game was filled with weird, errant goals, by both teams. Nashville’s first two goals were on their first two shots, and they were hardly regular shots at that. The first came off a turnover in the Lightning zone that the Predators almost gave right back. Nashville blueliner Roman Josi sent what was either a quick pass or a slow wrister towards the goal. Mike Ribeiro beautifully deflected it en route just a few degrees to slip between Ben Bishop‘s legs. The Predators skaters on the ice looked almost as surprised as the Tampa Bay goalie when the puck hit the back of the net.
Jump to 2:16 to see a couple of great back–to–back Rinne saves.
Just forty seconds later the Predators struck again. This time, the play started like a more traditional attack with a two–on–two rush by the Predators. Winger Taylor Beck put a hard shot on goal that Bishop easily handled, but Paul Gaustad‘s speed on the rush allowed him to get to the rebounded puck before Bishop could. Gaustad pulled a backhanded–baseball swing out of his arsenal to put the puck in just an instant before crashing into the goalie.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay was holding the puck in the Nashville zone for extended stretches, setting up, taking their shots. Tampa executed passes perfectly and tested Pekka Rinne, but the Nashville netminder really had no difficulty handling most of the Lightning’s strikes.
Wrap Around Goals Still Work
Apparently the number of wrap around goals have been up in the last few seasons after the NHL slimmed down the rear of the nets. It is still always a surprise to me that these work. It is nearly impossible to elevate the puck on a wrap around, so a goalie only needs to seal the post with his pad. But if the offense can get an off-tempo play going, it is possible to beat a shrewd goalie, which is just what happened when Tampa Bay’s Vladislav Namestnikov pulled Rinne out of the crease with no intention of shooting before flying around the back of the goal. For this goal, he actually didn’t complete the wrap around, but as Rinne was crashing back to cover the post on his glove side, Rinne knocked the puck in his own net.
After the first intermission, Nashville decided that they wanted a wrap around goal of their own, and Mike Santorelli showed the Lightning another way to make it happen. After his first attempt was easily denied, he received a generous rebound and slipped it through a puck sized hole between Bishop’s skate and the pipe. Three goals after less than 30 minutes of play was good enough for Lightning head coach Jon Cooper to send Andrei Vasilevskiy out to man the goal for the rest of the game.
Predators Strong in Final Minute to Hang On
In the final minute, with the Tampa Bay net empty, the Lightning put forth an impressive effort to remove Nashville’s one goal lead. But some key faceoff wins in the Nashville zone, and Mike Fisher executing a soccer kick without a stick, provided the response necessary to pull out a win.
Puck Possession is Important, Not the Full Story
The much anticipated release of the so-called advanced stats by the NHL, particularly the Corsi and Fenwick metrics, was designed to help quantify time in the offensive zone more accurately than just shots on goal. And while puck possession is a key part of scoring goals and winning games, if it doesn’t turn into high quality scoring chances, elite teams like the Predators, the Lightning, and whomever the Predators are likely to face in the playoffs, shouldn’t have a problem stopping efforts to throw the puck at the net.
In March, so far, the Predators have outshot their opponents 357–320, more than an 11% advantage. Yet, this pile of shots on goal has only returned five wins (two of which were in OT), matched with one overtime and six regulation losses. Meanwhile, across the whole season, the Predators have the same shot advantage of just over 11% (their number for Corsi and Fenwick are essentially identical). If last night’s game is indicative that the Predators are back on track, then they should be in perfect position for a playoff run.