The calendar has flipped to December, and for the Nashville Predators, it couldn’t have come soon enough. After enjoying an October that saw plenty of goals for and a record of 8-3-2, November was nowhere near as joyful for the Predators.
Nashville played in 13 games during the second calendar month of the season and finished with a record of 4-7-2, the fourth-worst record among all 31 teams. The month saw a six-game losing streak, a stretch where the Predators lost seven of eight games and defeats as lopsided as 9-4 to the Colorado Avalanche and 7-2 to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Looking at the stats it’s easy to see why the Predators lost so many games. However, what is not easy to understand is why there is such a night and day contrast from one month to another.
The Predators allowed an average of 3.38 goals-against per game, but was only able to average 2.5 goals-for. Nashville’s 33 goals for the month ranked 28th.
General manager David Poile has worked tirelessly the past few seasons to address scoring. He has handed out massive contracts to players such as Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen, while inheriting Mikael Granlund’s. So, to say 2.5 goals-for per game is unacceptable would be an understatement.
Penalty Kill Coming Around
However, the month wasn’t all doom and gloom. As much as it doesn’t seem like there has been much improvement with the penalty kill, it has slowly come to life. The Predators killed 75 percent of their penalties during the month of November, which ranked 24th. Although that seems less average, which it is, you have to remember they had two games against the Vancouver Canucks where they took a total of nine penalties and allowed eight power play goals.
But, if you discount those two, unusual, disastrous games, the Predators had a 91 percent penalty kill efficiency for the month. When breaking down the Predators’ penalty kill from month to month they had the same kill rate in November as they did in October, 75 percent. However, there were no outlier games as far as the penalty kill was concerned during October. That half of the Predators’ special teams was just lackluster for the entire month.
Same Bad Power Play
Unfortunately, the power play has been a different story. Recently the Predators have looked more like the 2018-19 team when it comes to the man advantage. During the month of November, the Predators converted 13.6 percent of their power play opportunities, which ranked 25th. Once again, what should be a weapon of the Predators, especially considering the firepower they now have, can not be relied upon.
The Predators played in four one-goal games during November – three of those games they failed to score a single goal on the man-advantage despite having opportunities to do so. The Predators went 0-for-4 against the San Jose Sharks on Nov. 4, 0-for-2 against the Winnipeg Jets on Nov. 19 and 0-for-2 against the Vegas Golden Knights on Nov. 27. Nashville also lost 2-1 to the New York Rangers at the start of the month in a game where their power play went 1-for-5.
Hindsight is always 20/20. It’s also easy to say that scoring just once with the man-advantage can completely alter the outcome of these games. However, it’s no secret that winning the special teams battle greatly increases the chance of success. The Predators have more than enough experience to know how important special teams are, they learned that lesson the hard way last season.
Lack of Contribution
Obviously, hockey is a team game, you win as a team and you lose as a team. It isn’t often that one player costs the team the game, but successful teams can rely on every player to contribute. Clearly the Predators’ record does not resemble that of a successful team right now and there are a handful of players that aren’t exactly helping to change that narrative.
Craig Smith suited up for all 13 games that the Predators played in November, but was able to muster just two points (one goal and one assist). Smith is currently playing on a $21.25 million contract, with an annual average value (AAV) of $4.25 million and is in the final year of his deal.
The native of Madison, Wisconsin is certainly a player that the Predators lean on for scoring. He has spent enough time playing in the top-six to eclipse far more than just two points in 13 games. However, it’s not like Smith didn’t receive the opportunities to put the puck in the net. The 30-year-old recorded 35 shots on net during November, the fifth-most on the team and the second-most among forwards, but his shooting percentage was just 2.9 percent for the month.
It seems like Kyle Turris’ issues warrant a story all to itself, but his performance for the month of November needs to at least be mentioned. The former Ottawa Senator played in six of the 13 games, recorded two points and finished with a minus-1 rating. It seems like there are bigger issues at play between Turris and the coaching staff. The center the Predators bought so high on has been a healthy scratch in seven consecutive games. Daniel Carr and Mathieu Olivier have both received playing time ahead of Turris, which clearly says a lot about where he currently stands with Predators organization.
Turris has openly spoken about his feelings towards sitting in the press box during recent games. When asked whether he has been given a reason as to why he finds himself as a healthy scratch the former first-round pick told NHL.com:
“No. Nothing. Obviously, it’s very frustrating, but at the same time I’m just going to work hard. I mean I want to be here. I want to win. I’m going to try and take advantage of every opportunity I get to contribute and do that.”
Colton Sissons will also be glad to see November in the rear-view mirror. The Predators’ centerman recorded just two goals in the team’s 13 games with zero assists. It’s been stated several times that the Predators’ offence doesn’t run through Sissons, he’s a shutdown, bottom-six type player whose value mainly stems from his defensive abilities rather than his offensive. The Predators need the 26-year-old to be a stable defensive presence when on the ice, but he finished the month with a minus-5 rating, the third-worst among the team during that 13-game span.
Predators Can’t Afford Another November
The NHL regular season lasts a little under six-and-a-half months. Come the end of December we will be halfway through the regular season and it could become really clear where the Predators stand in regards to making the playoffs.
Last season the Colorado Avalanche clinched the second wild card with 90 points. Using the low-90s as a benchmark, the Predators need to win at least 55 percent of their games moving forward to give themselves a reasonable shot at the postseason. Clearly, the 31 percent win percentage that the Predators mustered in November, will not cut it. Nashville’s 8-3-2 record after October placed them in the top-3 of the Central Division. However, after the debacle known as the Predators’ November, they now sit fifth in the wild card standings and are five points away from the Jets who hold the third seed in the division.
The Stanley Cup-winning window for the Predators is believed to be now, but if they have another month as bad as November they could find themselves on the outside looking in come mid-April.