Back-to-back losses while pursuing a playoff berth are enough to try the patience of most any hockey fan, and in Nashville, folks are calling for all sorts of solutions. Whether it’s benching underperforming stars, sending goal-starved rookies back to Milwaukee, or paying whatever it takes to land a proven, top-six forward, the natives are restless in Music City.
To set the stage for that discussion, I first wanted to delve into the issue of which players are or aren’t helping this team win; outside of Shea Weber & Ryan Suter, nobody is outperforming offensively, but given the decent defensive performance, it’s likely that some are contributing on that end more than others. For the purpose of this discussion I’m ignoring the goaltending, which, regardless of performance, isn’t a candidate for change via trade or promotion/demotion.
So who’s getting it done for the Preds so far?
In light of that disappointing 5-3 loss last night against Detroit, here is a six-pack of thoughts on the state of the Nashville Predators:
1. The Preds have typically been over-loaded with defensive (read: limited offensively, but hard-working) forwards, but Joel Ward is clearly separating himself as a two-way player from the rest of the pack. Among the Preds who are eligible for Unrestricted Free Agency this summer, only he and Greg Zanon have made their case for another contract.
2. Speaking of upcoming UFA’s, Toronto GM Brian Burke has made it clear that Nik Antropov has no future with the Maple Leafs. Submitted for your Nashville Predators Question of the Week: Should the Preds look at the big Russian for some offensive punch down the stretch?
With the race to the playoffs so congested (particularly in the wild, wild, Western Conference), one area of focus is the remaining schedule for the various contenders. Which teams have the toughest schedule, the most games left, etc.?
Two fine articles dig into some of the details for you. First, over at mc79hockey, we get a schedule breakdown; which teams have the most home vs. road games, matches with elite teams, and back-to-back contests as well. The picture looks especially grim for Minnesota there.
Second, JavaGeek over at Hockey Numbers takes a look at just how much of an effect back-to-back games have on a team’s chances for winning. It helps put into perspective something that teams complain about all the time.
It’s time once again to update those NHL Penalty Plus/Minus rankings, and marvel again at how Los Angeles Kings forward Dustin Brown continues to lead the way; as I’ve noted before, Brown led the league last year in this measure as well, so this is hardly a fluke.
You know what is interesting, though? As I looked at last year’s results, I scanned the runners-up, and found typical big-name superstars like Crosby, Datsyuk and Ovechkin in spots 2-4. While Datsyuk’s +12 this season is still quite positive, Crosby (+2) and Ovechkin (0) are mired in mediocrity. I’ll leave to their fans (or their detractors) to help explain why they’re just not drawing the whistles like they were before. One theory could be that the referees were included in that recent ESPN survey in which Sid the Kid was named the biggest complainer in the league…
A nice post-All Star break start by the Predators (3-1) has Nashville back within hailing distance of playoff position, with a critical stretch coming up over the next four days; tonight vs. Anaheim, Friday at Minnesota, and Sunday at Dallas. All three of those opponents are included in the cluster of teams battling for four available playoff spots, so making progress in the playoff race means taking at least 3 points out of these games (considering two are on the road).
One tempting storyline has attributed the Preds’ recent success to the reunion of the Sullivan/Arnott/Dumont line, especially in light of the production of Dumont (3 goals) and Arnott (2 goals) of late. However, you might be surprised to find out that these three, as a line, haven’t actually done much…
Over at Brodeur is a Fraud, the Contrarian Goaltender digs into the question of who, relative to the era in which they played, has been the greatest playoff goaltender over the last 40 years (the period for which the data he’s using was available).
Some familiar names are near the top of the list (Hasek, Dryden, Roy); but you might be surprised who comes out on top...
Quoth John Glennon at the Tennessean:
The Predators will be looking to both the past and the future as they seek to rediscover their long-lost offense following the NHL All-Star break.
In practice Monday, their first after six off days, the Predators reunited one of the more successful lines in franchise history -
Yes folks, you know what that means…
While pondering the possible solutions to the Nashville Predators’ offensive woes today, I was trying to decide on which angle to evaluate when @pwnicholson Twittered the following...
Can you run a comparison of the Preds w/ & w/o Nichol in the lineup? I’ve seen stuff in the past showing how ‘vital’ he is.
This issue had been bouncing around inside my head for a few days now, and was brought up again in this morning’s update in the Tennessean about Jones & Sulzer getting recalled from Milwaukee. While Greg de Vries will go along on the road trip through Western Canada that begins Wednesday night in Vancouver, Scott Nichol is still “sidelined indefinitely” with the concussion he suffered December 9 on a hit by Rob Davison.
Now, nobody’s going to confuse Scott Nichol with a top-line center, but how big a hole is left in the Nashville lineup without him?
The burden of NHL travel has been a hot topic in recent weeks, with Vancouver’s GM Mike Gillis petitioning the league for a less stressful schedule next season, and the question being raised as to how many one-game trips various teams have to make. While it is assumed that factors like back-to-back games are a drag on player performance, what we don’t know at this point is how much of an influence they have, and whether certain players are affected more than others.
Over at Brodeur is a Fraud, however, the Contrarian Goaltender digs into the details to try and determine how various goalies have held up in recent years, focusing specifically on their numbers from back-to-back games:
I took a sample of the top 10 goalies in games played since the lockout, and compared how they did in the first game vs. the second game of all of their back-to-backs over the last 3 seasons. What I found, somewhat surprisingly, was that the numbers were pretty much identical in both halves of the back-to-backs.
Read on for an interesting analysis of this issue; I think the jury is still out, but this piece certainly helps to inform the discussion.
The ascent of sabermetrics in Major League Baseball sparked a confrontation between the new-fangled math geeks with their correlation studies and algorithms, and the old-school empiricists, the traditional scouts who relied upon observation and experience to build winning organizations (as told in Moneyball, for example). While the progress of advanced statistical analysis in hockey has lagged well behind that of baseball, the opinions expressed in various forums (mostly blogs) built upon measures like Corsi Numbers, Shot Quality (PDF) and On/Off Ice +/- have been enough to create a threat in the minds of some, who fear an overthrow of the established understanding of the game.
A good example of someone reacting to that perceived threat comes today from Jason Gregor over at OilersNation.com:
Sabremetrics[sic] and Moneyball have worked in baseball, but would the same work in hockey?
To me the sports are just too different to allow statistical data to overtake live scouting.
Sigh… I cruise a lot of the statistically-oriented hockey sites, and I’ve yet to ever read anyone even remotely suggesting that statistical analysis could ever replace or overtake live scouting. Yet here we have another stirring defense against that imaginary foe…