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Numbers Paint the Picture: Don't Forget to Play D

by Willy Daunic / Nashville Predators

As training camp begins for the Nashville Predators, there is a lot of attention being paid to offense. This is no surprise.

In recent years, there was much made of Barry Trotz's "defensive-oriented" system. New Nashville Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette has made no secret that his teams "play moving forward.” How he implements this change in philosophy will be eagerly watched throughout training camp.  

The notion of Laviolette equals more offense is an easy one to get behind. Fans for any team love to be entertained. Talks shows and social media forums always are flooded with questions about acquiring "top-six forwards" and "goal scorers.”  

What has not been stressed in the storylines as much is this: Though it is fair to say the Predators were offensively challenged last year, an equal if not bigger problem was that they gave up WAY too many goals. Consider:

1.  The Predators finished 23rd in the NHL in goals allowed per game last season (2.84)

2.  NONE of the bottom 10 NHL teams in this category made the playoffs last year.

3.  The Predators allowed 3 or more goals in over half of their games (46).   

4.  Nashville's record in games allowing 3 or more goals: 11-25-10

Certainly, Pekka Rinne's absence would explain a portion of this:

1.  Predators record during games in which Pekka Rinne was on the injured list:   21-21-9 (goal differential: -30)

2.  Predators record in games with Pekka on the active roster:  17-11-3  (goal differential: +4)

Even when in the lineup, Rinne had an up-and-down year by his standards, as he first worked through the offseason hip surgery and then the hip infection which cost him 51 games. But just his presence alone seemed to help the team's confidence, and the play of Carter Hutton thrived when slotted in the backup role the Preds set out for him.          

Of course, it's far too simple to put all of a team's defensive success or failure on the goaltender. Having Rinne back healthy to start camp should help tremendously, but the head coach knows there is more to be done. Though fans are much more attentive when the questions are about offense, Laviolette has stated repeatedly that it will not come at the expense of responsible play in the defensive zone.

There is cause for optimism beyond the goalies. The defense corps, which went through growing pains last year beyond stalwarts Shea Weber and Roman Josi, made strides toward the end of the season. The valuable experience gained by youngsters Mattias Ekholm, Victor Bartley and Seth Jones should pay dividends. Add in veteran Anton Volchenkov, and the collective unit has a chance to make a big step forward.

As Laviolette begins training camp, it will be exciting to see how this new "play moving forward" system will look. There is plenty of depth at the forward position, and the unit as a whole has a good chance of producing at a higher rate. But only an improved goals against will equal a trip back to the playoffs, a fact of which Laviolette is definitely aware. You can be certain he will have this on his mind as he weaves his web.   

It just won't get as much attention.  

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