Nashville Predators, 2009-10
Goals For: 225 15th
Goals Against: 225 14th
GVT: 0 16th
Points: 100 11th
VUKOTA Projection for 2010-11
Goals For: 221 27th
Goals Against: 231 14th
GVT: -9 23rd
Points: 88 23rd
Currently fourth-place in the very competitive and tight Western Conference, the Nashville Predators perennially fly under the radar. They had 100 points last season, after all, right? If they were in the Eastern Conferenceand they seem pretty "east" to methey might have been a conference second seed in 2009-10, given the easier level of competition, which would have resulted in a better record for the Preds. And last postseason might have been very, very different if Nashville had hung on to win Game 5 against the Blackhawks, forcing Chicago to play two elimination games.
Joel Ward, Jordin Tootoo and Jerred Smithson appear prominently among Preds specializing in some of the secondary stats below. But as respected as Ward is as a defensive specialist, my lasting image of him is his ineffectivenesshis failurein the final minutes of that Game 5 collapse.
Predators top forwards, by 2009-10 stats
Shots/60: Patric Hornqvist 13.2, Jordin Tootoo 11.0, Marek Svatos 8.2*
Hits/60: Steve Begin 11.2*, Jordin Tootoo 7.8, Jerred Smithson 5.2
Blocked shots/60: Joel Ward 3.0, Jerred Smithson 2.6, Steve Begin 2.0*
Takeaways/giveaway: Joel Ward 2.3, Marcel Goc 2.1, Steve Begin 1.9*
Net penalties/60: Jordin Tootoo +1.5, Sergei Kostitsyn +0.7*, Joel Ward +0.6
Faceoffs: Jerred Smithson 54.9%, Steve Begin 53.5%*
Predators top defensemen, by 2009-10 stats
Shots/60: Shea Weber 7.4, Cody Franson 6.2, Ryan Suter 3.8
Hits/60: Francis Boullion 6.2, Shane O'Brien 6.1*, Shea Weber 5.5
Blocked shots/60: Kevin Klein 5.5, Cody Franson 3.7, Francis Boullion 3.7
Takeaways/giveaway: Ryan Suter 0.9, Cody Franson 0.9, Shea Weber 0.7
Net penalties/60: Shea Weber +0.0, Kevin Klein +0.0, Francis Boullion -0.3
Minimum 40 games played
Predators goaltenders, 2009-10 stats
28-year-old Pekka Rinne has seemed to fall into that category of good but nowhere-near-elite goaltenders, though his 2009-10 even strength save percentage indicated perhaps a better netminder than perceived by conventional stats. This season, Rinne currently stands at the fine marks of .928 overall save percentage and .927 even strength save percentage. But filling in for the veteran Finn, rookie Swede Anders Lindback has arguably been marginally better, with a .922 overall save percentage and a .938 even strength save percentage.
Save percentage .911
Even strength save percentage: .925
Power play save percentage: .835
Shorthanded save percentage: .886
Head coach Barry Trotz has one of the deeper sets of shooters that you'll find, with young Cal O'Reilly looking promising through a relatively limited number of attempts and Martin Erat, Marek Svatos, David Legwand and Steve Sullivan (32.1%) as solid choices. In addition, the likes of Cody Franson, Patric Hornqvist, Sergei Kostitsyn and Shea Weber deserve a few more chances to see what they can do. On the other end of the ice, Pekka Rinne has proven to be a well above average shootout-stopper in a moderate number of attempts.
Best options, shooters with 10 or more career attempts
Cal O'Reilly: 50.0% (5 for 10)
Martin Erat: 38.2% (13 for 34)
Marek Svatos: 36.4% (12 for 33)*
David Legwand: 35.7% (5 for 14)
Best options, shooters with a limited track record
Shea Weber: 0.0% (0 for 1)
Cody Franson: 0.0% (0 for 1)
Sergei Kostitsyn: 0.0% (0 for 2)
Patric Hornqvist: 0.0% (0 for 3)
Pekka Rinne: .778 career (70 for 90), .756 in 2009-10
THE BIG QUESTIONS FACING THE PREDATORS
Big Question #1: How can Nashville improve their scuffling power play?
Ryan Suter: "We have to continue tolike we did tonightmove pucks around, get shots through, just be creative. You know, when you get too one dimensional, you don't have success. So for us, we have to continue to be creative, and continue to work hard. You have to outwork your opponent's penalty kill."
Timo says: Special teams have been an issue for Nashville in recent seasons. Their power play yet again ranks towards the bottom of the league, a lousy 14.8% placing 25th in the NHL. It's a common issue for solid teams that lack superstars, like Nashville, Buffalo, Florida and Phoenix. Top-heavy teams like Anaheim and Chicago tend to rack up their goals on the power play instead, but are generally less effective overall at even strength.
Answer: While adding star power would be nice, it's just not going to happen on a team that's in the bottom third of the league in salary. But Nashville should look to add a veteran power play specialist to their lineup before the trade deadline.
Big Question #2: What's it going to take for the Predators to make the playoffs again, and then advance further?
Head coach Barry Trotz: "Number one, we've got to be healthy. In the years we've made the playoffs, we haven't been a really healthy team in a lot of those years, so number one is health. Number two is just probably get through that first round. I think we've played well as a team; we've got two good goaltenders. In the past, we've had some teams that made the playoffs that weren't really that deep. We had to play at a really high level all year to make the playoffs, and [we didn't] have that other gear which some teams that we've met have in the past. But I think we've grown up a lot, and we're a little bit bigger in certain areas of our game, and I think there's a lot more trust in our group, and a lot more consistency in our group, so we'll see. It's hard enough to make the playoffs in the West. You never know. We've only got about [40 more] games to go here, so we'll see what happens. But the West is going to be a dogfight. You're going to have to play 82 games to make itthere's no ifs, ands or buts. There's too many good teams and we're all even
It's going to be a team that can stay healthy, because if you have a bad couple of weeks, you could to be out of the playoffs. And there's a lot of injuries. Every team is having their depth tested. We've had it early. We've had a lot of good players hurt early
Hornqvist and Legwand and Lombardi and Pekka Rinne, obviously, and Cody Franson, who's a really good offensive defenseman. So we've been tested all year, and the great thing about that is that we're finding that a guy like Sergei Kostitsyn has gotten better and better for us, and a guy like Nick Spaling has contributed, and all of those types of things. So our depth has been tested, and it's making us I think a better team."
Ryan Suter: "We have a great team. We've got all the pieces. We have to continue to get better. We're not there yet. We have got a lot of work to do. But I think if we can continue to do better, we'll be all right at the end of the year."
VUKOTA says: VUKOTA had Nashville ranked low again: 23rd in NHL, 12th in the Western Conference. Whoops. One of these seasons, it'll learn.
Timo says: With an excellent overall lineup, solid goaltending and one of the best coaches in the NHL, the Predators are going to make the playoffs. Seeding is key to assure the best possible chance of making it past that first round.
Answer: They'll make the playoffs, you can bank on that. To advance? A trade deadline tweak on the power play unit, going with the hot hand in goal between Rinne and Lindback and a bit of good fortune.
Big Question #3: What's the future hold in store for the Preds?
Hockey Prospectus 2010-11 says: With recent graduations to the NHL like Cody Franson, Patric Hornqvist, Cal O'Reilly and Colin Wilson, Nashville still has a handful of solid prospects in #40 RW Austin Watson, #49 D Ryan Ellis and #55 LW Taylor Beck, but lots of quality depth in their system.
Timo says: We know he's small, but if Ryan Ellis were on the Predators roster, it might improve that perennially poor power play. That might have been an opportunity missed for 2010-11.
Answer: As many still consider Nashville to have one of top couple of farm systems in hockey, the flow of talent looks to continue to the NHL.
Timo Seppa is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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