The John Hynes era with the Nashville Predators is certainly off to a positive start. After a helpless (and arguably quite meaningless) 6-2 loss to Boston on Tuesday, the Preds earned consecutive Central Division wins against the Blackhawks and Jets, returning to within striking distance of a playoff spot.
One key to this hire by David Poile was maximizing the potential of the Nashville roster. Poile has spent a lot of money in the last few years and knows he can’t waste the opportunity ahead of him. Based on Hynes career as an NHL head coach, we don’t yet know if he will be able to do that, but the early returns are positive.
Specifically, there are two areas that John Hynes will bring almost immediate improvement, with the first being the Preds’ penalty kill.
Improve the penalty kill
Over the course of his career in New Jersey, Hynes made the Devils a tough penalty killing team. The Devils rank 7th in the league since 2015 in penalty kill percentage (81.9%), and that’s with an inexperienced and unskilled lineup for most of that time. The Predators rank 15th (80.6%) in that same span, though they’ve been particularly bad this season, ranking 30th in the league (73.7%).
So far under John Hynes, the Preds have gone 6-for-8 on the penalty kill, though that includes a power play goal allowed in the Boston game, when Hynes was barely in Nashville long enough to learn his players’ names. The penalty kill looked especially good against the Jets, who boast the 12th best power play in the league.
#Preds penalty kill held up well against the Jets’ excellent PP unit. Really compressed box formation that didn’t let any cross ice passes.
— Alex Daugherty (@AlexDaugherty1) January 12, 2020
Though penalty kill strategies change based on the power play units they face, Hynes’ units seem to fall back to a very simple formation that makes the penalty killing easy. Hynes runs a box formation that provides most of its pressure when the puck is down low and on the entry. The unit looks content to let the opposing forwards pass around the outside of the zone, doing everything it can to stop cross-ice passes and possession in the danger area.
This sounds very simple, but it makes a huge difference. The Preds tried to be too aggressive at times under Laviolette, leaving chances open in front of the net or on the back-door. With a tight, compressed system in the middle, teams get frustrated and just find themselves passing back to the point to get low percentage shots.
If that sounds familiar, it should: it’s what most teams do against the Preds’ power play. I suppose we will have to see if Hynes can help that frustrating unit get going, but I’ll save that for another column.
So the Preds should see improvement in the penalty kill, mostly because of their commitment to defend the middle of the ice. Which brings me to…
Defensive zone shutdown
It’s only a couple of games, but the Preds defense looks overwhelmingly better under John Hynes. A sound structure and a more ordered approach to defensive zone coverage looks like it will go a long way to making the Preds a tough team to score on in the near future.
It was clear from day one that Hynes’ focus would be on defense. It was one of the first topics covered at his first practice on Wednesday and the system itself is a simple one for the Preds’ highly skilled players to adapt to.
The defense in particular stood out in Sunday’s 1-0 win over Winnipeg. The Jets have plenty of dangerous weapons in Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine, but the Preds held them to just six high danger chances at 5-on-5 and an expected goals total of 2.07. Juuse Saros took care of the rest, stopping all 28 shots from the Jets and earning his first shutout of the season.
— Alex Daugherty (@AlexDaugherty1) January 12, 2020
The Preds stifled the Jets in the middle of the ice, always putting at least two guys in front of the net, with another player or two ready to scoop up rebounds. The Jets settled for low percentage shots from the outside, even when trying to tie the game up late.
If you have been frustrated by the Preds’ inconsistency over the last couple seasons, the defense has probably been the main reason why. Too many blown leads, too many easy goals for opposing teams, too many early deficits in games.
But the early returns under John Hynes suggest that the defensive issues for the Nashville Predators are well on their way to being resolved.
GIF Me That Good Stuff
Probably the goal of the year for the Nashville Predators. Pekka Rinne means so much to this franchise and the big guy finally gets one.
Folks, Pekka Rinne just scored a goal. #Preds
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) January 10, 2020
Preds Quote of the Week
“I think I blacked out.”
-Colin Blackwell on seeing Pekka Rinne score a goal in the United Center on Thursday. Keep in mind that Blackwell scored his first NHL goal in the same game, but had a more extreme reaction to seeing Rinne score his first later in the game.
Get Them Digits
- 2 — the number of goaltenders (Pekka Rinne and Chris Mason) that have scored goals for the Nashville Predators, an NHL record
- 12 — the number of consecutive games with a point for Roman Josi, a streak which ended in Winnipeg on Sunday
- 9.84 — the Preds’ team shooting percentage at even strength, good for 7th in the league
- 10.97 — the Preds’ team shooting percentage on the power play, good for 26th in the league
Let’s Do That Hockey
- Tuesday, January 14th @ Edmonton Oilers (8:00 PM; FS-TN)
- Thursday, January 16th vs Anaheim Ducks (7:00 PM; FS-TN)
- Saturday, January 18th vs Buffalo Sabres (7:00 PM; FS-TN)
If you want to hear more discussion on how the John Hynes era should differ from the Peter Laviolette era, I highly suggest you give the latest Preds NashCast a listen.
Link and I took a deep dive into what the on-ice product will look like under Hynes, including an honest assessment on what we’ve seen so far. We also discussed the Pekka Rinne goal and the prospects of a Preds’ playoff run.
As always, you can listen on Soundcloud (linked above), iTunes (link), and Spotify (link). We bring you episodes every two weeks, though we will probably bring more frequent episodes as the Nashville Predators head towards a playoff run.
— Featured image via David Banks/USA TODAY Sports —