This year seems different for the Nashville Predators. The goals are coming in bunches and, for the first time in a long time, if ever, there is real confidence that they can go goal-for-goal with any team in the league.
In football, some games are described as “shootouts,” meaning, high scoring and whoever has the ball last will likely win because it’s a foregone conclusion they will score. There has never been a season when the Predators have been comfortable getting into a “shootout” with another team; they’ve never been built for that type of game. Now, the defensive chess matches, those are the Predators’ bread and butter, as they say.
But, this season’s different. The Predators are welcoming those shootout games and its provided some exciting hockey for everyone involved, well, except for goalie, Pekka Rinne.
“There have been a few high-scoring games,” Rinne told Michael Gallagher of the Nashville Post. “I am sure everybody loves them, but us goalies, we are on an island,” (from ‘Predators getting plenty of offense, big games from Rinne,’ Nashville Post, 10/23/2019).
High-scoring isn’t an exaggeration. The Predators lead the league in goals-for per game with 4.20 heading into Friday’s games. It’s a small sample size and it’d likely the team will not finish with a total that grand when game 82 rolls around. But, to put some perspective on how impressive their goals-per-game average is, the Predators finished with 2.88 last season.
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Nashville is on pace to score 344 goals this season, which would easily shatter their current franchise-best for most goals in a single season of 266 set back in 2006-07.
They Like, They Love it, They Want Some More of It
The Predators have played 10 games this season, seven times they have scored four goals or more, and they have scored five or more five times. Again, it’s a small sample size, but this is scoring rate completely foreign to Predators fans.
The game against the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday night was a positive sign that this is a trend that could continue. The game wasn’t as one-sided as the final score suggests. The Predators finished the game with 30 shots to the Ducks’ 27, with the Predators being out-shot in the first and second periods. But, they were able to find the back of the net consistently for the entire game, scoring two goals in each frame.
Why is this significant? That Tuesday night game illustrates that the Predators can make the most of their opportunities, even when there isn’t a a ton of them, something they have needed in the past to post a score that high.
However, for as much as the Predators are scoring, spreading their goals over all three periods hasn’t come natural this season. They have 6 first-period goals,, which ranks 26th, and 13 second-period goals, which ranks 8th. When it comes to the third period, their offence really comes to life and is otherworldly. In the final frame of regulation alone, they have scored 23 times or roughly 55 percent of their total offence. To give some perspective on how strong that is, the second-place team in that category is the Florida Panthers with 15.
The Predators Do Have a Power Play!
It helps when all the offence comes together. Last season’s power play was one to forget. However, this season, it has turned around, clicking at a 19.4 percent efficiency rate. That is like night and day compared to their 12.9 percent just a year ago. Some memories are too painful and although a handful of fans still twitch when they hear, “the Predators are on the power play,” with the talent on both units, slowly but surely the belief is returning that the man advantage could again be a threat.
The Predators have scored a power-play goal in 7 of 10 games this season. Seeing the puck go in on the man advantage can help a team’s mindset when preparing for their next one.
“It can be (a) confidence thing,” forward Austin Watson said to Paul Skrbina of the Tennessean. “You look at the power play from last year, nothing worked, no matter what we tried,” (from ‘Predators’ penalty kill has lacked life so far, Tennessean, 10/21/2019).
That doesn’t seem to be the case early on this season. In fact, a lot of what they’re trying is working: scoring down low with forwards receiving grade-A shots from the slot, a la Viktor Arvidsson against the Detroit Red Wings on Oct. 5, or letting defensemen such as Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis shoot away from the point.
You Have to be in it to Win it
Of course, the season is long and arduous, consisting of ups and downs. Filip Forsberg is a massive reason why the Predators have been able to get off to their hot offensive start, scoring five times in the six games he’s played. But, the 25-year-old has been sidelined since the game against the Vegas Golden Knights on Oct. 15.
The Predators have really relied on their depth at forward to cope with such a substantial loss and so far, the secondary scoring is delivering. Kyle Turris shifted to playing on that “second line” in Forsberg’s absence and we could be seeing a rejuvenated Turris, but that’s a story for another day.
However, the offence may have received another blow, as Matt Duchene, a member of that second line, left Thursday night’s game against the Minnesota Wild late in the second period.
Like Forsberg, Duchene has been a big reason for the Predators’ potent offence, recording more than a point-per-game through the first 10.
In typical hockey fashion, Duchene has been diagnosed with a lower-body injury, with very little information surfacing about the cause or even the severity of the ailment. However, the one thing that is known, if Duchene is forced to miss time and it coincides with Forsberg’s absence, the Predators’ fast-pace, high-scoring style will suffer. There are not many, if any, teams in the league that can continue operating at an elite level when missing two potential All-Stars.
If the Predators can limit the injuries, there is no reason why fans shouldn’t expect effective offence all season, which will bode well for a possible playoff run. Last year, of all the teams to make the playoffs, only the Pittsburgh Penguins finished with a lower goals-for per game rate than the Predators.
They say “defense wins championships,” which has merit, but you also have to score here and there. With the way the Predators are playing for the first time in a long time, scoring could be the least of their worries.