Sitting three points out of a wild card spot, behind the fucking Canucks, is not where the Predators thought they’d be halfway through this season. Nashville entered the year with expectations higher than they’ve ever been in Smashville, which makes this so far just about the most disappointing season they could have had. They thought they’d be tussling with the Hawks and Wild(?!) at the top of the division. It has not gone that way.
We’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out why. Roman Josi backing up certainly hasn’t helped. We’ve pointed out their lack of front-line scoring, with really only Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen bonafide, NHL first-line talent. And Forsberg has had a miserably unlucky year until very recently. Subban, Neal, and Ellis missing time hasn’t helped either. We figured Pekka Rinne would be their downfall, but he’s been ok enough, especially in November.
When looking at Rinne though, you see a microcosm of the whole team. Because overall, everything suggests they should be higher than they are in the standings. They may have just fallen victim to the dreaded “sequencing.”
For the uninitiated, “sequencing” is a term you see more and more in baseball analytics. Essentially, you can be a good offensive team, but if your hits are strung out a little far apart, you might not score a lot. Then you’d see a low team batting average with runners in scoring position, and you’d get the ever-annoying debate about “clutch.” Reversely, a few years ago when the Cardinals hit something like .324 as a team with runners in scoring position and they chalked it up to their mythical “ways” when it just turned out they happened to bunch their hits together, as was proved the next year when they couldn’t buy a hit with runners in scoring position.
We haven’t seen this much in hockey, or at least it’s not nearly as discussed. It might now. Looking over the Preds stats, everything appears to be in order. They’re 10th, in team Corsi-percentage at 51.5%, 9th in xGF% at 52.6, 11th in scoring chance percentage at 52.1%. They’re 11th in goals per game, 13th in goals against, 13th in power play, 14th in penalty kill. Even Rinne hasn’t killed them, with a team save-percentage at evens that’s 9th in the league.
And yet, they’re 20th in the league in the standings. Hmmm…
Looking around, it might just be how they’re bunching their goals and goals against. No team has less one-goal wins than the Predators, with three (the Hawks lead with 16, three more than anyone else, further convincing that the Hawks foundation is built in sand this year). Only five teams have less than the Predators’ three one-goal losses either. The Preds have 10 wins by three goals or more, good for fifth in the league, and have eight losses by that margin as well. When they’re good, they’re really good. And when they’re not… (tugs collar). 13 times the Predators have scored four goals or more. They can explode.
Rinne is something of a marker, as in November he had a .949 SV% in 12 appearances. October and December saw .906 and .875, so that middle month really helps flatten out his overall numbers. So related, the Preds went 8-3-2 in November, and are a middling 9-7-5 the rest of the time. In November they scored 46 goals in 12 games, or 3.8 per game. The other time they average 2.3 goals per game.
Their possession numbers spike in the same way, though in December not November as their goals and goals against did. This is their season-long rolling five-game average:
So the question for the Predators is are another 43 games enough time for everything to even out to where they’ve been the previous years? Or will those games prove that November is basically as good as it’s going to get? It’s only three points to a playoff spot, but we know how hard ground can be to make up. How much do they trust the numbers?