Predators’ All-Star Break Comes at Perfect Time

The Nashville Predators are limping into the All-star break and this year’s midseason time off couldn’t have come at a better time. The Predators are sitting sixth in the Central Division, six points back of the final wild-card spot and seven points from cracking the top three in their division.

The Predators’ poor play this season has been well-documented and drawn heavy criticism due to the expectations that the team had coming into the 2019-20 campaign. Head coach Peter Laviolette was fired, a rarity for general manager David Poile, and John Hynes was hired in an attempt to save the season.

Related: Predators Had to Fire Peter Laviolette

However, since Hynes took over in the Music City, the Predators are 3-3-0 and are falling further and further back from a playoff spot. However, it’s still way too early to make any definitive statements or judgements about what Hynes can do for the Predators. To implement a new system, it will take a while. The break coming up for the Predators should give the team ample time to reset and address the issues that Hynes has repeatedly noticed in his short time in Nashville.

“We gave up a goal in the Edmonton game on a bad line change and we had a too many men penalty today, Coach Hynes said in his post-game interview after the Predators lost to the Anaheim Ducks 4-2 on Jan. 16. “So, those are little things that when the game is in the balance and they’re tight games, you can’t beat yourself.”

Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne
Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

Under the rules of the CBA, the Predators cannot have team practices during their “bye-week.” But, they can use the time to mentally digest the new system being implemented and try to understand it better when they are back on the ice following the All-Star Weekend.

Crawling into the Break

After a bad November and a lackluster December, the Predators knew that their best hockey had to be ahead of them to stand a fighting chance of getting into the playoffs. However, that brand of hockey never surfaced consistently, or even at all for that matter.

The last 10 games haven’t exactly gone according to plan for the Predators. Nashville is 4-5-1 during that time, clearly not a record that is going to allow them to gain any sort of ground. They have averaged 2.80 goals per game over that span while allowing 3.20. The goals for per game is the most alarming here, as it is down dramatically from the season average of 3.30.

Although only slightly, the 3.20 goals-against per game is actually lower than the season average of 3.21. Since the start of the season the Predators have given up a lot of goals, but they also score a bunch at the same time, so – before the past 10 games – their goals-against average (GAA) didn’t seem all that bad. However, now that their goals for production is down, it really highlights their inability to keep the puck out of their own net as the major problem that it truly is.

Viktor Arvidsson Christopher Tanev
Nashville Predators right wing Viktor Arvidsson battles for the puck with Vancouver Canucks defenseman Christopher Tanev (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

However, while the power play has seen some improvement over those past 10 games, clicking at a 23.3 percent efficiency, the Predators’ penalty kill can’t boast the same improvement. In fact, the penalty kill has been even worse over the last 10 games than it has been all season, killing off the opponent’s man-advantage just 60.6 percent of the time.

During his four full seasons with the New Jersey Devils, Hynes had the league’s fourth-best penalty kill over that period. The Predators would be well-served for their new coach to spend a portion of the break dissecting their special teams and trying to find an immediate fix for it.

Rest and Recovery

Another massive bonus that the week off gives the Predators is the recovery time they desperately need. Ryan Ellis is reportedly still in the concussion protocol. Even though there’s no guarantee that Ellis will be available when the Predators return on Jan. 27, the time off can reduce the number of team games the Predators’ leader will miss.

Then there’s Colton Sissons. The center has been out of the lineup since Dec. 27 when he suffered a lower-body injury in a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. According to reports, Sissons could make his return after the break.

The Predators didn’t exactly light the league on fire when both Ellis and Sissons were in the lineup, but they are still definitely players that Nashville needs if they are going to make a second-half run towards the playoffs.

Coincidently, the Predators’ last 10 games just examined are the 10 games that Sissons has missed due to his injury. The 3.20 GAA over that span shows that the Predators’ defense is no longer the strength it once was for them. Having Sissons back in the lineup will certainly help Nashville get more of a grasp on the defensive system that Hynes is trying to implement.

Colton Sissons Predators
Colton Sissons, Nashville Predators Oct. 19, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The North Vancouver native has always been a reliable player when it comes to the defensive aspects of the game. Sissons is the Predators’ third-best face-off ace, winning 52.5 percent of the time (minimum of 100 faceoffs taken). When lining up for a defensive zone draw, Sissons is the Predators second best, winning 52.4 percent of those he takes, which trails only Nick Bonino’s team-leading 57.4 percent.

Related: Predators’ Bonino Has Value Far Beyond Goals

As mentioned, the Predators’ penalty kill is operating at just 60.6 percent during the past 10 games, by far the worst in the league during that span. Despite being on IR for the past 10 games, Sissons still has the second-most shot blocks among Predators’ forwards while killing penalties. He also has the team’s second-best faceoff win percentage while on the penalty kill, with a minimum of 20 faceoffs taken. There’s clearly a reason why Sissons is a go-to penalty killer for the Predators and an even bigger reason why they’re struggling so much without him.

It’s a similar story with Ellis; he plays heavy minutes along with his defense partner Roman Josi. The two defensemen, playing on the first pairing, average the most time-on-ice (TOI) on the team. So, it would be an understatement to say that the Predators are missing his presence. Ellis hasn’t played since the start of the Winter Classic, yet the 29-year-old still has the fourth-most points for the Predators.  

Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis
Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

Having both of these essential players back will do wonders, especially considering that the areas the Predators are struggling with are aspects of the game where Ellis and Sissons excel.

Predators Have to Hit the Ground Running

The Predators have played the least amount of games in the Western Conference, so assuming they can fix their issues they’ll have enough games in-hand to be able to fight back into a playoff spot. The Predators’ remaining schedule is not exactly grueling either, they have 17 home games and 18 road games left following the break. Obviously, it would be natural to prefer more home games, but Nashville hasn’t exactly made the most of their home-ice advantage. The Predators are 11-9-4 at home and 11-9-3 on the road.

February will be a telling – and trying – time for the Predators. Out of their 14 games for the month, 13 of them are against teams with records .500 or better. However, on the bright side – well, should be bright – eight of the 14 contests during February take place at the Bridgestone Arena. Nashville will have no other choice than to try and make up ground during the difficult month as it doesn’t get any easier for them. March features 15 games for the Predators, again all but one of them are against teams with records better than .500.    

So, it’s safe to say that the Predators could use the time off to reset. Use the time for Hynes and the rest of the coaching staff to hit the drawing board and truly diagnose what’s wrong with this supposedly “cup-contending” team.