The Nashville Predators have long been a club that has made its mark through a combination of a strong defensive corps and a strong performance between the pipes. From the original teamwhich featured players like Kimmo Timonen and Tomas Vokoundown to the current club, with stars like Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, and Pekka Rinne, the Predators have relied on a strong defense and made the best of a paltry offense.
Originally, the limited talent available to an expansion club forced that philosophy. Now, the budgetary requirements that come with playing in one of the league's smallest markets do the same.
Reflecting on the club's strong defensive play and offensive limitations, this year's The Hockey News Yearbook pointed to the potential return of Alexander Radulov in 2012-13 as a possible tipping point for the club. In the same paragraph, Predators' writer David Boclair pointed to one of the team's perceived strengths as a stopgap until the Predators can find or develop a point-per-game forward:
"Until then, Nashville must continue to thrive in one-goal games, where it is 108-43-42 over the past five seasons."
At first glance, that is an impressive record. A team that recorded points at that pace would finish any given season with 110 points. Has Nashville been particularly successful in one-goal contests?
The first step in answering that question is to compare Nashville's record in games decided by a single goal to their record in games decided by two or more goals. To compare fairly, we need to move past the wins-losses-overtime losses system and into a strictly wins/losses approach. Because every overtime/shootout loss is by definition a one-goal game, an approach that calculates using points rather than strict wins/losses will flatter even the worst teams. By way of example, consider the records of the league's three worst teams in one-goal games last season:
Only the Oilers' look particularly bad at first glance here, and Colorado actually looks like a strong team. Clearly, just wins and losses should be considered when comparing games decided by one goal to games decided by two or more. Here, then, is the Predators' record over the last five seasons:
Season Overall One-goal games Multi-goal games
2006-07 51-31 (.622) 23-15 (.605) 28-16 (.636)
2007-08 41-41 (.500) 17-18 (.486) 24-23 (.511)
2008-09 40-42 (.488) 22-16 (.579) 18-26 (.409)
2009-10 47-35 (.573) 28-15 (.651) 19-20 (.487)
2010-11 44-38 (.537) 18-21 (.462) 26-17 (.605)
Totals 223-187 (.544) 108-85 (.560) 115-102 (.530)
It would seem that Nashville has been significantly more successful in one-goal games than in games decided by more than one goal. Could it be that they are particularly gifted in shootouts?
Season Shootouts Other one-goal games
2006-07 6-5 17-10
2007-08 3-5 14-13
2008-09 6-5 16-11
2009-10 8-4 20-11
2010-11 6-4 13-17
Totals 29-23 (.558) 80-62 (.563)
The Predators were actually slightly worse in the shootout than in other one-goal game situations, so there is no reason to attribute their performance in close games to any particular skill in the shootout.
What about empty-net goals? After all, a multiple-goal game victory won by an empty net goal isn't much different than a single-goal victory. However, while moving multiple-goal games that included at least one empty-netter does help balance the equation (the Predators scored 42 empty-net goals for versus 39 empty-net goals against), it doesn't have a major impact: Nashville's record in one-goal games remains stubbornly superior to their record in games decided by multiple goals.
It seems at least plausible, then, that the Predators really are better in one-goal games than in games decided by multiple goals. That could be explained anecdotally in a variety of ways. For example, Barry Trotz is widely regarded as a strong defensive coachit may be that the Predators are better at defending a one-goal lead than they are in other areas. Regardless of the cause, the coaching remains the same and much of the roster has been constant over the five years under considerationit seems the team really does have a particular talent in one-goal situations.
Jonathan Willis is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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