The Nashville Predators exploded for 13 goals in two wins this week, beating the New York Rangers 5-2 on Monday, then taking down one of the league’s best teams in the New York Islanders 8-3 on Tuesday.
Impressive, especially considering the subject.
Undoubtedly, this outcome seemed very unlikely after the Preds’ hapless 4-1 loss to the Dallas Stars at home on Saturday, a game several players called “embarassing” and the head coach called “not good enough.”
A team that couldn’t put more than one goal by a Central Division rival at home then goes to New York and puts up 13 goals in a 24 hour span? How did this happen?
It’s simple really: quality over quantity.
Volume is Preds’ strategy
The Predators under Laviolette have been the epitome of a volume shooting team. Since he arrived in Nashville in 2014, the Nashville Predators have been above league average in shots per game and shot attempts per game. For the most part, it’s been a successful strategy. The team has had the most league success it ever has, winning a Presidents’ Trophy in 2018, winning back to back division titles in 2018 and 2019, and then of course the deep Stanley Cup run in 2017.
But when you look to shoot on the net as often as possible, sometimes you sacrifice quality. Getting shots from the perimeter means goalies have more time to react and the opponent can better position themselves for a block. It also means the defensemen are piling on most of the shots, with the forwards having to dig out rebounds and collect the puck for a re-cycle.
Volume shooting puts skills like having a quick shot (which Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson have) over having a more patient shot (which Ryan Johansen and Nick Bonino have), so it’s no wonder some players have seen success while others have struggled.
This season has been much of the same. Here’s a look at where the Nashville Predators generate unblocked shots this season. Red areas indicate a higher volume of shots, blue areas indicate a lower volume of shots.
A ton of Nashville’s shots are coming from the blueline and the outer part of the circles, with the slot and high danger area being relatively safe for opponents.
But Monday and Tuesday were very different.
Less volume, more quality
While the Rangers game was more about the performance by Juuse Saros, who turned away 39 shots, including 20 that were high danger, the Preds scored two goals that indicated a change of philosophy with their attack.
The first was by Rocco Grimaldi. Watch how he enters the zone with speed, then slows down and creates a better angle for himself
There was a moment on the outside of the defender, when Grimaldi was still above the circle, when he could have fired a shot on net. But he skated further, held the puck just a little bit longer, and fired a more quality shot on net from a more dangerous angle.
Then in the 2nd period, Roman Josi did almost the exact same thing from the other side. Skating in, holding the puck, drawing a defender close, then firing a shot through a screen to make it 2-1 Preds.
From there, the Preds’ attack waned against the Rangers. They simply dug in against the onslaught and Juuse Saros did his thing in net. You would have liked to see the Preds put their foot on the gas pedal a little more, but the defense held up just enough to come out of there with a win (they had two empty net goals to make the score look more lopsided than it was).
The next night on Long Island was a different story. The Preds hammered the Isles with tons of quality even while getting out-shot and out-chanced for most of the game.
Check out the unblocked shot locations for the Preds against the Islanders:
That’s a ton of shots coming from the slot area, with the Preds getting six goals from that area at even strength. While there are still some shots coming from outside the circles and around the blueline, it seems clear that the game plan was to get to the danger area.
The Nashville Predators have a long way to go to be a Cup contending team again. They still need their goaltending to return to normal (Monday was a good start, Tuesday not so much) and they need their special teams to get back to league average. But if they can continue to generate more quality than quantity on a nightly basis, I see more multi-goal outbursts on the horizon.
— Featured image via Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports —