The saying “the early bird gets the worm” suggests that the first to wake up or arrive will find the most success. It seems logical that the ability to put the puck in the net first swings momentum that can ultimately set the tone for the rest of the game. The case is no different for the Nashville Predators who find the most success when scoring first.
Over the last two seasons, the Predators boast a 54-12-16 record when scoring the first goal. When they can get that first goal and sustain the lead through the first period, Nashville has only lost six games in regulation. The trend continues when leading after two periods as they only have three in the loss column. The bottom line – when they score first they step on the gas.
Having to play from behind to win, or at best force over time, is always a difficult task. If Nashville fails to score the first goal they end up with a record of 28-44-10 over the last two seasons. All hope isn’t lost if they don’t get the initial goal as evidenced by having more than a zero in the win column, but the numbers don’t lie.
The 2017-18 Predators are continuing the trend set by the previous year’s team. When scoring first, Nashville remains unbeaten (5-0-2); as such they have been able to climb up the Central Division standings after a slow start. We take a look at three factors that will help continue the Predators’ first-period success and propel them to the top.
Prominent Primary Scoring
During the 2016-17 season, the Predators stumbled across their top line amongst the various shuffling of line combinations. The impact of Viktor Arvidsson, Ryan Johansen, and Filip Forsberg’s efforts to generate offense for Nashville can’t be ignored. Throw in some mobile, offensive-minded defenseman like Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis and you get an additional 28 goals.
So far in the 2017-18 season, the Predators’ top dogs are continuing to lead the charge. Arvidsson, Forsberg, and Josi have accounted for 18 of the 40 goals scored by Nashville thus far. Additional players like Scott Hartnell and Craig Smith have inserted their names into the mix of primary scorers, both tallying four goals each.
The loss of James Neal to the Vegas Golden Knights has certainly presented a challenge to replace his production. Many thought that Kevin Fiala could turn it on and have a breakout year, but that hasn’t panned out yet through 15 games. Johansen also needs to turn things around as he uncharacteristically has yet to find the back of the net.
Stunning Secondary Scoring
Leaning only on the production of the “top” players is a tall task and not a feasible approach to have success. Bottom six offensive players and the third defensive pairing who don’t log big minutes need to capitalize on the time on the ice. It’s these contributions that can help a team with struggling top-line players and often help get them out of their funk.
Last season, the Predators had 23 different players score at least one goal during the regular season. This trend continued in the playoffs where 19 different players were able to get on the board with a goal. Forwards like Cody McLeod, Harry Zolnierczyk, and Vernon Fiddler that weren’t expected to produce were able to contribute to the deep run made by Nashville.
With Josi, Arvidsson, and Forsberg accounting for 45% of the Predators goals, eleven other players finish out the remaining 55% of goals scored. If Nashville can get sustained production from their third and fourth lines, primarily from 2017 playoff standouts Colton Sissons and Austin Watson, Nashville will increase the likelihood of finding the twine before their opponents do.
Two components go into scoring the first goal of the game. The first is the ability of a team to go out and score a goal while the second is the ability of a goaltender to prevent the opposing team from scoring. There is nothing worse than when the netminder lets in a softie that sucks the wind out of a team’s sail no matter how much momentum they had.
Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne is having a solid start to the season boasting seven wins in eleven starts with a 0.934 SV% and 2.08 GAA. The backup, Juusee Saros, isn’t doing well winning only one game in three starts with a 0.855 SV% and 3.93 GAA. In order for the Predators to jump out to a hot start, they need both of these guys to stand tall and hold off the opposing team early on.
A prime example occurred when Saros was in net for a Stanley Cup rematch between the Predators and Penguins. In a mere one minute and six seconds, the Penguins got on the board, seized the momentum, and then never looked back on their way to a 4-0 shutout. There’s no way to truly know what would have happened had Nashville scored first, but statistics say it might have gone the other way.
The Bottom Line
Predators General Manager David Poile has done what he can to bring in talented players who can increase the odds of Nashville scoring first. Stanley Cup champion Nick Bonino, hardened veteran Scott Hartnell, and the recently acquired Kyle Turris should all help first-period scoring opportunities.
Scoring the first goal can generate game-changing momentum for the team that can get the job done first. Whether the goal is scored on the road to silence the home crowd or scored at home to send the crowd into a frenzy – the numbers support the importance of getting that first goal.
Ben is an Ohio State alum born and raised in south Jersey. Currently calling Nashville home, he has been covering the Nashville Predators since 2014. Initially drawn to hockey as a kid by the FoxTrax puck, he now despises the idea of such a thing.