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Behind The Numbers

Predators' special teams can improve under Hynes

Underlying statistics show new coach can turn around subpar power play, penalty kill

by Rob Reese @NHLReese / Fantasy Editor

Each week goes Behind the Numbers, using underlying statistics to identify trends, areas of improvement for teams and players, and predict what could happen in upcoming games. Today, identifies areas of weakness of the Nashville Predators and what new coach John Hynes can do to improve their chances of qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

John Hynes was hired by the Nashville Predators on Jan. 7, replacing Peter Laviolette, who was fired the day before after six seasons with the team. Entering Thursday, the Predators are five points out of the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference with 40 games remaining. A closer look at their season statistics identify areas Hynes can focus on improving in the short term.

The Predators power play was a cause for concern last season when it was ranked last in the NHL (12.9 percent). The power play's struggles carried over into the playoffs where it went 0-for-15 in a six-game loss to the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference First Round. Nashville's man-advantage is converting at 17.3 percent (ranked 23rd) this season but has room for improvement. Signing center Matt Duchene in the offseason has helped; he has nine power-play points, which is tied for first among Predators forwards with Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg.

It's worth noting that forward Viktor Arvidsson, who has been skating on the top power-play unit, missed 12 games with a lower-body injury earlier in the season, which could have negatively impacted their power-play percentage. One adjustment Hynes could consider is placing forward Craig Smith on the top unit. Smith had the second-most power-play goals (nine) for the Predators in 2017-18 when their power play finished 12th in the NHL. Another skater Hynes could utilize for special-teams help is forward Kyle Turris, who is averaging the third-lowest time on ice per game of his career (14:19). Turris had an NHL career-high 21 power-play points in 2017-18 with the Ottawa Senators and Predators and could provide a fresh look to the top unit. It's a small sample size but Arvidsson (18.7 percent) and Turris (16.6 percent) are second and third respectively in power-play shooting percentage this season, indicating they could be used as triggermen on the top unit.

Nashville's penalty kill is tied for 29th in the NHL with the Detroit Red Wings at 73.8 percent. The Predators excelled on the penalty kill last season finishing six best (82.0 percent), so what changed? The five skaters averaging the most shorthanded time on ice last season, Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, Colton Sissons and Nick Bonino, are the same as this season. The difference is No. 1 goalie Pekka Rinne's save percentage when facing the opposing teams power play. Last season he had an .861 save percentage in that situation compared to .755 this season. That percentage ranks last in the League among the 59 goalies to play at least eight games. Backup Juuse Saros has performed better shorthanded (.857 save percentage) and should be considered for additional starts under Hynes.

Video: NSH@NYI: Nelson rips wrister past Rinne on 2-on-1

The numbers suggest that personnel tweaks to the power play and penalty kill could vastly improve the team, which otherwise has good underlying numbers. The Predators rank sixth in 5-on-5 shot attempts differential (plus-195), suggesting they control possession at even strength. The Predators are also tied for the fourth-best 5-on-5 shooting percentage (9.4 percent). Their 19th ranked 5-on-5 save percentage (.915) can be improved, but it's worth pointing out it's better than the Vegas Golden Knights (.912), Carolina Hurricanes (.912), Edmonton Oilers (.908) and Philadelphia Flyers (.907), who are all currently in a playoff spot.

The Predators rank fourth in face-off win percentage this season (52.4) which highlights that they are controlling possession from the circle, which ultimately benefits their goalies. Any improvement in that area would have minimal impact on their goalies. Hynes could instill more of a shot-blocking culture to the Predators, who rank 22nd in the category (562), but judging by the fact that the Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Winnipeg Jets, Tampa Bay Lightning, St. Louis Blues, Philadelphia Flyers and Carolina Hurricanes all having blocked fewer shots, there seems to be no correlation to blocked shots and winning.

One bold suggestion for Predators to consider is pursuing help in net with one of the potential 2020 unrestricted free agent goalies.  Robin Lehner of the Chicago Blackhawks fits that mold and ranks first in shorthanded save percentage (.932) among goalies to play at least 20 games. Regardless of whether the Predators seek outside help, cleaning up the special teams will be one of coach Hynes' biggest focus points.

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