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Stanley Cup Final

Predators have trusted analytics throughout run to Cup Final

Coach Peter Laviolette knew turnaround against Penguins was possible by looking at numbers

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / LNH.com Senior Managing Editor

NASHVILLE -- Throughout the Nashville Predators run to the Stanley Cup Final, coach Peter Laviolette has often referred to analytics when asked to assess a player.

Laviolette won't go into the numbers themselves, and also emphasizes what he sees from watching them play, but analytics are clearly a part of Laviolette's evaluation process.

"I think to ignore that information would be not wise on my part," Laviolette said Sunday. "There's a lot of information out there that can help guide you to how your team's playing, how a player's playing, how a line is playing, how a matchup works.

 

[RELATED: Complete Predators vs. Penguins series coverage | Subban breath of fresh air in Stanley Cup Final]

 

"There's just a lot of information out there. I think you're crazy not to use that information."

That information strongly suggested the Predators should have been optimistic of their chances after losing the first two games of the Final to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and they were rewarded for their strong play with a 5-1 win at home in Game 3 on Saturday.

Game 4 is Monday at Bridgestone Arena (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports).

The Predators had controlled the shot attempts at 5-on-5 in five of the six periods that were played in Pittsburgh, an overall advantage of 91-60, or 60.3 percent, through two games. Nashville had more scoring chances, more high-danger chances, more everything, but were down 2-0 in the series.

Relying on those numbers gave the Predators some belief they could come back with a win in Game 3.

"He's a pretty firm believer in that kind of stuff," defenseman Ryan Ellis said. "Stats, I guess, you really can't make up stats and you can read into them a lot. I mean, in Game 1 they don't get a shot for 37 minutes, so I'm sure the stats said we should have won the game. But at the end of the day it's who has the most goals, right?"

Video: NSH@PIT, Gm1: Ellis uses screen to tally PPG

Some in the hockey world have been slower to adhere to the analytics movement, one that is still evolving and being evaluated for its usefulness. Laviolette is a relatively recent convert. In 2012, while Laviolette was coaching the Philadelphia Flyers, he was asked whether he paid attention to advanced statistics like Corsi (shot attempts) and Fenwick (unblocked shot attempts).

"I'm unfamiliar with the Corsi and Fenwick statistical powers," Laviolette said at the time.

Now? He is quite familiar with them and uses them on a regular basis with his players.

"We value those numbers and that's a big part of the reason why we're in this situation, because we're consistent with how we need to play and perform and we're realistic about it," defenseman P.K. Subban said. "The numbers say whether we're doing things the right way or not."

Video: PIT@NSH, Gm3: Neal banks puck in off Murray's glove

Every team has different ways of collecting and using information. The Predators must as well, but not too much of it is actually shared with the players. Too much information can be paralyzing.

"They look at probably way more numbers than we would even know about, to be honest," center Colton Sissons said. "I don't know if they have some number secret that nobody else has. It would be awesome if they do."

Subban, however, used a term to describe how Laviolette uses numbers that is not part of the general hockey lexicon.

"Puck possession, our three quarter ice game, our offensive zone time, he talks about it a lot," Subban said. "Three quarter ice game is from our zone to their blue line, so controlling that in terms of making sure we get pucks behind their defense. The more we do that, the more we can drive offense, get in on the forecheck. But when we're turning pucks over, the other team takes advantage of the three quarter ice game. So that's kind of how he sees it."

Video: PIT@NSH, Gm3: Josi, Gaudreau strike 42 seconds apart

Subban also pointed out that scoring chance data can sometimes make shot-based metrics problematic, and that the Penguins are a perfect example of that.

"They may not get a ton of shots but their opportunities are from those Grade-A areas and that's why they're able to kind of tilt the ice in their favor even though they don't get a lot of shots," he said. "So that's where the mistakes come in and managing the game and all that stuff."

It would be foolish to believe analytics are solely responsible for getting the Predators to the Final because there are so many factors involved. But their very public belief in them and the current success they are having may lead other teams and coaches that are skeptical to change their minds.

"I think it's important," Laviolette said. "There's a lot of information that comes in from different ways, whether it's numbers, whether it's my eyeball, whether it's the score of a game, whether it's somebody's X-factors that they bring to the table. All that stuff should be weighed and make decisions from there."

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