Kukla's Korner

Is a missing Scooter Nashville’s problem?

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?

On the penalty kill, Nichol’s forte, the team has gotten along well; after struggling early on, Nashville currently stands 6th in the NHL with an 84% PK.  The power play, which Nichol doesn’t participate in, has been consistently lousy all season, so outside of perhaps seeing guys like Erat and Legwand logging some extra time on the penalty kill, and the consequent loss of EV/PP time or extra fatigue at the end of the game, I just don’t see Nichol’s absence having had anything more than a marginal impact on the Predators’ special teams. That’s not so much a criticism of Nichol as it is a validation of Nashville’s depth in quality penalty killers.

Let’s focus, then, on even strength.  Courtesy of the juicy scripts over at TimeOnIce.com, here is a look at how the Nashville centers have performed (at even strength) in the 27 games before, and the 19 games including and after, that fateful December 9 game against Vancouver:

 With NicholWithout Nichol
 Santorelli          1333283121122818

You know what I see here?  Not much, honestly. I would have expected to see Nichol’s absence indicated by poor results from guys like Fiddler, Peverley and Santorelli, the beneficiaries of Nichol’s missing ice time, but all three of them have performed reasonably well here; this table shows the total team shot information while each given player is on the ice, where the Corsi number (think Total Shots For - Total Shots Against) is a pretty fair measure of which end of the rink is seeing more action.  Peverley’s performance in this regard is especially enlightening, and perhaps a reason why Atlanta was so keen on playing him with Kovalchuk.  I held this table just to the centers, but by and large most of the Preds have had positive Shot +/- and Corsi numbers (including a surprisingly high +51 Corsi for Antti Pihlstrom) since December 9.

So where, then, has the offense gone?  Goals Per Game have dropped from 2.78 before 12/9 to 1.79 afterwards, and the cause basically boils down to the Nashville scorers not finishing their chances.  Even Strength Shooting Percentage was 9.2% before Nichol got hurt, a figure right around the NHL average.  Since then, however, that figure has dropped through the floor, to a woeful 4.9%!

And it’s not like the mix of shots has changed to some extreme degree:

 Total ShotsPercentageTotal ShotsPercentage

This tells us that while the defense (whose long bombs are less likely to score) are taking a greater portion of Nashville’s shots at even strength, it’s certainly not a large enough factor to account for more than a sliver of that huge drop in goal-scoring.

So the long answer, I guess, is that I can’t sincerely pin any of the Predators’ recent struggles on the loss of Scott Nichol; I’d still like to get him back in the lineup as soon as possible, but the real trouble in Nashville is one of burying those precious scoring opportunities, and that wasn’t Nichol’s job to begin with.  For more detail on Nashville’s shooting woes, check back with me tomorrow…

SF = Shots For
SA = Shots Against
MS = Missed Shots
BS = Blocked Shots

Filed in: Nashville Predators, NHL Statistical Analysis, | On the Forecheck | Permalink


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