Recently, the Nashville Predators have found themselves in a position difficult to explain following several of their losses. The box score shows another opponent outshot and outchanced, but the Preds look up to see themselves on the wrong side of the most important ledger nonetheless.
The team, under Head Coach Peter Laviolette, prides itself in a high shot attempt total that produces a wide shot margin, and theoretically, more goals and wins. Statistically, Nashville has been extremely successful in the pursuit of their aforementioned quest, with the club ranking third in the NHL in shots for per game at 31.7 and second in the League in shots allowed with 25.9. Consider the Preds company among the NHL’s Top Five shot-producing teams (Los Angeles, Dallas, Montreal and Washington - the current leaders of the NHL’s four divisions) and the club’s 4-4-2 mark in their last 10 games becomes even more difficult to explain.
Hockey is a game that requires volume to produce statistical significance; and for Laviolette, Nashville’s high ranking in stats that usually indicate repeated success is the focal point rather than trying to explain an effort that by the metrics “should” have produced a victory. Nashville’s second-year coach believes - and the standings of the other teams with shot numbers similar to the Preds support him - that a consistent replication of the Preds current effort is more likely to produce an October that saw Nashville go 7-1-2, rather than a November that held a 5-6-2 mark.
“Looking at a lot of things we’re doing on the ice, I think it will turn,” Laviolette said of the Preds poor results despite superior shot statistics. “That’s how we play. That’s how we do it here. It’s led to a lot of success and a lot of wins. Right now we just have to find a way to cut down a goal or find one more goal for us to swing these one-goal games that aren’t going our way.”
A recent stretch of failing to convert in-tight chances and running into hot goaltenders has pushed the Preds record to 7-9-2 when totaling more shots than their opponent - another statistic that when extrapolated over the course of the season should flip.
“We want a game where we’re on the attack and doing good things; it has to turn at some point, I would think.” Laviolette said. “Short of that, I can’t explain it.”
Like their head coach, Preds players remain confident in their on-ice system that strives for high shot totals from all of the club’s skaters.
“[We] know what makes our team successful, and that’s getting a lot of shots to the net and scoring dirty goals,” defenseman Roman Josi said. “It can be frustrating, especially when we had that stretch where we didn’t score, and we really thought we played well in some of those games. It gets frustrating, but I think you just have to stick to the process.”
The Predators success last season (47-25-10; 104 points), their first under Laviolette and his method of attack, has also been a helpful reminder of the results the team believes they should be getting. Plus, for every loss 2-1 loss to Florida (shots 33-16 in favor of Nashville), there’s been a 3-2 victory over Boston (shots 33-17 in favor of the Preds).
“Outshooting an opponent, even if you don’t score, it still gives you a good feeling because you know you’re playing well, and you’re doing the right things,” Josi explained. “This season’s kind of been a story where we outshoot teams, but lose the games. It’s weird how that works, but it’s important for us to focus on getting a good start even if we don’t score in the first. It’s still better to have a lot of shots… and it’s huge to get that first goal.”
“It’s going to come if we keep shooting the puck, and obviously we have a lot of chances, it’s just about bearing down when we have the chances,” winger Filip Forsberg said. “Everyone wants to score, but it’s just about really making sure it happens.”
Flukey puck bounces or shots off the post and out are two of the reasons why hockey needs a high games played total to determine its best team. There will be highs and there will be valleys for every team, and Laviolette says he’s found a method of navigating the sport that brings results over the long-term. At least that’s what the numbers say.
“When we’re establishing our identity, it’s clear-cut, it’s visible. That’s led to good offense and good defense,” Laviolette said. “I think the one thing that stands out for me, if you’re weighing the last three or four games, is trying to be consistent with what we’re doing.
“Seeing [our play], this stretch will turn around.”