One thing the Nashville Predators have prided themselves on is having a solid defense. One would think a team with a stout defensive unit would have no trouble killing penalties. However, that’s not been the case the last couple of months.
The Predators sit in 28th place when on the penalty kill as of Dec. 17. Nashville has given up 24 goals in 100 man-down situations for a 76-percent mark. The 24 goals is ranked second-most allowed in the league. (Winnipeg has given up the most goals on the penalty kill with 27.)
Nashville finished 18th on the PK last season, which is in the middle of the pack. However, the Predators only gave up 45 goals on the penalty kill for an 80.8-percent record last season, and they’re already more than halfway of surpassing last year’s total.
So one has to ask, what is wrong with the Nashville Predators penalty kill?
Pekka’s Problems on the PK
Pekka Rinne is arguably a top-five goalie in all of the National Hockey League. Rinne’s play during the first half of last season helped the Predators get off to a fast start. Rinne was even given early consideration for the Hart and Vezina trophies.
However, this season has been a bit of a struggle for the Finnish goalie. Rinne has put up pedestrian numbers with a 12-9-6 record, a 2.40 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage. Those numbers have not been very “Rinne-like.”
One statistic that has stuck out is Rinne’s struggles in stopping shots in man-down situations. Rinne was only stopping 83.5-percent of his shots on the PK. His struggles have really been put under the microscope as of late according to Fox Sports Tennessee.
It had been amplified of late, with Rinne’s late eight starts including a 1-5-2 mark and a 3.14 goals allowed average.
If Rinne can get back to his old self, that would help out a lot.
No Block Party
Another issue is the number of shots getting through to Rinne. Roman Josi was the only Nashville player in the top-50 in blocked shots in shorthanded situations as of Dec. 11. I’m sure Peter Laviolette won’t ask the Predators to turn into a team that blocks shots a lot, but some support would be nice.
The fact that Josi is blocking a ton of shots could be trouble. We’ve seen plenty of injuries happen to players when someone blocks a shot. (We all remember what happened to Gregory Campbell.) Josi is more than willing to give himself up to block a shot. However, it would be nice for his 2.71 blocks, which is third in the league, per game statistic to go down.
I tried to do some research on what’s ailing the Predators’ PK, and there was one tweet that stood out. It came from our friends at the On the Forecheck blog when previewing the Dec. 10 game versus the Chicago Blackhawks. It showed that the Predators were really struggling at keeping their shape on the kill.
LOOK AT THIS! You could land a jumbo freaking jet in the amount of space they gave Ericsson. pic.twitter.com/k6qcUO2R94
— On The Forecheck (@OnTheForecheck) December 8, 2015
The Predators’ penalty kill is pretty average when compared to others. However, there have been times where opponents have gotten Nashville skaters spinning around and cashed in on the power play. The Predators really don’t give up more chances than other teams, but the opposing team is just executing better.
If you give up space to good power-play teams like Chicago and Boston, the red light will go off more often than not. The coaching staff has to tell the team to maintain discipline and not chase the puck.
It also hasn’t helped when a few of Nashville’s good penalty killers have faced injuries. Paul Gaustad has been in-and-out of the lineup, Eric Nystrom was out for a spell and Gabriel Bourque is still out with an upper-body injury. The three of them together have helped kill 82-percent of Nashville’s penalties. The Predators are only at 69-percent with out those guys being together.
The injury to Mike Fisher also hurts as he also plays a key role on man-down situations. Any team would struggle when it is missing a good chunk of its top penalty killers. The injuries are forcing inexperienced penalty killers to be forced into tough situations.
How to Fix the Preds’ Penalty Kill
The good news is all of these problems are fixable. The Predators were one of the top penalty killing teams in the league in October. It’s not impossible for them to find the formula that fixes everything. Nashville should be in a better spot once everyone gets healthy.
Another way to fix the penalty kill is to just cut down on taking penalties. A bad penalty takes away any momentum Nashville gains. It may not be the answer, but it could be a start.
Dan Mount is a Nashville Predators staff writer for The Hockey Writers. You can follow him on Twitter, @DanMountSports.