The Nashville Predators lost for the fourth time in five games last night in Vancouver, falling 5-3 to a Canucks team that is likely still in rebuilding mode (though definitely has a chance to make the playoffs in a weakened Pacific Division). The Canucks won mostly on the backs of their power play, getting three goals by Pekka Rinne on the man advantage and cruising to victory with an empty net goal late.

Giving up three goals on the penalty kill in one game is not a recipe for success in the NHL. The Preds would obviously like to have those few shifts back, as there were some chances to get the puck out of the zone and they gave the Canucks way too much room to work in the zone.

But while the penalty kill has been an early weakness for the Preds, here’s why you don’t need to worry about it in the long run for this team.

First… the Preds’ problem

The penalty kill has been one of the issues with the Preds during their recent skid and it reflects a larger trend from the first 18 games. They’ve allowed five goals on 20 chances in their last five games for a 75% success rate. That 75% also happens to be their success rate on the season so far, allowing 15 goals on 60 chances.

No team in the NHL can fall to a 75% success rate on the penalty kill and expect to be a formidable team. Power plays can be momentum shifting moments in games, especially in the playoffs. Not only do you need to rely on your team to stop the vast majority of power play chances, you need them to make the opposing power play panic about not being able to score. Taking momentum away from the other team can be the difference between winning and losing in the regular season and playoffs.

So, yes, the penalty kill has not been doing its job so far. That much is true.

Deeper penalty kill stats

But when you dive a bit deeper into the Preds’ penalty kill, things might not be as bad as they appear.

When looking at the rate of chances allowed on the penalty kill, the Preds are actually one of the better teams in the league. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Predators are the 3rd best team in the league in shot attempts allowed on the penalty kill. So when it comes to preventing the opposing team from getting shots off, they are a top five team.

In addition, the Preds are 7th best in expected goals allowed on the penalty kill and 8th best in high danger chances allowed. So not only are they doing a good job at preventing shots, they are also successful at limiting those chances from being dangerous chances.

Of course, every team is going to allow some chances that are unstoppable. In last night’s loss, the first power play goal by Elias Pettersson was an almost impossible shot to stop. Pekka Rinne had no chance.

But overall, all you can ask is that your penalty kill unit prevent shots and dangerous scoring chances. So far, they’ve actually been doing a decent job at that.

So where is the problem then?

Save percentage killing the Preds

Flat out, the goalies are not getting it done. The Preds are dead last in the league in save percentage on the penalty kill.

It is pretty rare for anyone who follows the Nashville Predators to feel like Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros aren’t doing their job well. The exact opposite has been true for the last few years, with Rinne and Saros being the absolute strength of the team for the better half of a decade.

But dead last in the league with barely an .800 save percentage? They need to do better than that.

The good news is that history shows they will. Save percentage is an average, which means it can fluctuate. Shooting and save rates tend to normalize at some point after enough data is collected. Pekka Rinne’s career save percentage on the penalty kill is 86.5%, but this season so far, he’s only at 71.4%. Since Rinne didn’t just forget how to stop shots when shorthanded overnight, it seems reasonable to expect his save percentage to improve dramatically over the course of this season.

Don’t worry about the penalty kill

Since the overall unit (except for the goalies) is performing at a reasonably high level so far, there’s really nothing to worry about with the Preds’ penalty kill. They are outworking opposing power plays and doing a good job reducing high danger chances. Bad penalty kill systems are unable to do this.

And don’t forget that the Preds’ penalty kill unit finished with the 6th best success rate in the league last year at 82.1%. Almost all the players who regularly contribute to that unit are still in town: Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, Calle Jarnkrok, Nick Bonino, Austin Watson, and Colton Sissons.

So it’s highly unlikely that the penalty kill just became terrible over night.

The Preds’ penalty kill is going through a rough stretch right now and the goalies need to step up a bit. But history shows that the save percentage will go up and the unit will get back to stealing momentum away from the opposition on a nightly basis.

— Advanced stats from Natural Stat Trick. Featured image via Anne-Marie Sorvin/USA TODAY Sports —
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