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31 in 31

Nashville Predators key statistics

Johansen's faceoff ability drives offense; defense makes up for subpar goaltending

by Rob Vollman / Correspondent is providing in-depth analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, three key statistics for the Nashville Predators.


[PREDATORS 31 IN 31: Season Preview | 3 Questions | Top prospects | Fantasy breakdown]


1. Shots from circle success

The Nashville Predators might have defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final if not for the absence of their No. 1 center, Ryan Johansen, who required emergency leg surgery after Game 4 of the Western Conference Final against the Anaheim Ducks.

Johansen is one of the most versatile players in the NHL, and his contributions begin right from the moment the puck is dropped every shift he's on the ice. 

In traditional terms, Johansen had a faceoff winning percentage of 54.5 percent last season, which was tied for 32nd in the NHL among those who took at least 100 draws. However, statisticians tend to evaluate faceoff performance using the Net Shots Post Faceoff (NSPF) statistic developed by Craig Tabita of Puck Base. From this perspective, the Predators got an extra 52.16 shot attempts within 10 seconds of Johansen's faceoffs at 5-on-5 last season relative to how the League-average center would have performed in the same number of offensive, defensive and neutral-zone draws. That placed Johansen first in the NHL.

Video: Breaking down Johansen's new eight-year contract


2. Disciplined on defense

The Predators rely heavily on their top four defensemen. In the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Roman Josi, P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm each averaged more than 25 minutes of ice time per game, and Ryan Ellis averaged 23:25 per game. Third-pair defensemen Matt Irwin and Yannick Weber averaged 11:54 and 11:09.

The quality that makes Nashville's top four so reliable is their commitment to doing all the little things that add up to winning results over the long term. 

To explore one example, Ellis is the League's best defenseman at drawing penalties and playing a disciplined game of his own. In absolute terms, Ellis drew 22 penalties last year, which tied Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators for first among NHL defensemen, and was called for nine.

We can evaluate Ellis' performance by comparing his penalty differential (plus-13) to how the League-average defenseman would have performed with the same ice time in each manpower situation (minus-6.4). His relative penalty differential of plus-19.4 ranked third in the NHL last season behind Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (plus-30.0) and Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau (plus-22.5).

Video: The guys discuss Nashville's remaining cap space


3. Questions in net

The most interesting disconnect between the numbers and the eye test in Nashville is with goalie Pekka Rinne. Widely perceived to be an elite goalie who was the key factor in helping the Predators reach the Stanley Cup Final last season, Rinne appears to be a below-average goalie statistically.

Rinne's .916 save percentage the past three seasons was tied for 27th among the 64 NHL goalies who faced at least 1,000 shots. Although Rinne's save percentage since 2014-15 already classifies him as a lower-end No. 1, it may have even been bolstered by Nashville's ability to keep opposing shots to the outside. 

Using shot location data from NHL game files over the past three seasons, Rinne's save percentage when facing shots taken from inside the home plate area was .827, which ranked 53rd among the 64 goalies. From that perspective, he appears to be better-suited as a backup.

(Note: The home plate area runs from the goal posts to the faceoff dots, then up to the top of the faceoff circles and across.)

Video: Pekka Rinne gets the number 10 spot for Top Goalies

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