The Nashville Predators season has now completed the first quarter of the 82-game marathon. As many have pointed out, the team had a strong month of November to vault back up into the Western Conference playoff pack after a sluggish October.
Though Nashville has moved above the playoff line, it is a true logjam in the West. At the start of play Thursday, teams ranked four through 11 in the Conference standings had between 24-26 points. The Predators have 25 points, though they and the Minnesota Wild have played the fewest amount of games (22) among the group.
Things have stabilized, but there is still a ton of hockey to be played. Statistically, there are things to like. Let's look at a couple of trends:
1. Goal Differential (+8)
It's a simple stat, but it can be a good indicator of a team's underlying ability. Since realignment prior to the 2013-14 season, no team in the Western Conference has made the playoffs with a negative goal differential. Only two teams during those three seasons have missed the playoffs with a positive goal differential (Los Angeles and Dallas in 2014-15).
Generally speaking, if you are scoring more than you are allowing over the long haul, your win-loss record should fall into place eventually. If the reverse is true, you are likely a bit worried. Take the defending Central Division champion Dallas Stars. They are just a point out of the last Wild Card spot, and they have been dealing with a bunch of injuries, but with a goal differential of -18, there is cause for concern.
What can mask a poor goal differential is an ability to win a ton of close games. Take Ottawa, a team that is 14-8-1 with a -1 goal differential. But, the Senators have won nine games by one goal, including three shootout wins. While they are to be commended for what they have done, that level of success will be tough to sustain.
In contrast, the Predators have won only one game by a single goal (fewest in the NHL). Overall, they are 1-1-3 in one-goal games. There is skill in "finding ways to win" in the close games, but some puck luck can be involved as well. Over the long haul, the ability to overpower the opposition is very beneficial. Nashville has six wins of three-or-more goals (tied for third most).
Video: NSH@COL: Johansen balances on one skate and scores
2. Road Stabilization
The Predators biggest blemish, overall, is their road record of 3-7-2. But it is trending in the right direction. Take a look at the difference between October and November on the road:
Goal Differential: -13
Penalty Kill: 10-19 (9 power-play goals allowed)
Outshot opponent in three of five games
Goal Differential: Even
Penalty Kill: 21-22
Outshot opponent in five of seven games
Overall, the road record is not stellar, but the team's confidence is growing in their formula for success.
Video: TBL@NSH: Subban blisters one-timer for PPG
In a previous column, I cited the Predators lack of success in October in the area of shot attempts percentage, or SAT%. On Halloween night, the Predators were hovering at about 48 percent, ranking 20th in the League.
Since then, that percentage has risen to 50.66 percent which ranks 12th in the NHL. It's still not in the 53 percent range the team has achieved over the last two seasons, but it's trending in the right direction.
The chemistry of the defensive corps continues to build. This has helped the team more efficiently advance the puck out of their own end, through the neutral zone, and into scoring territory. If this continues along the same plane, look for that SAT% to inch up a few ticks higher.
When listening to coaches talk these days, an increasing number of them discuss "the process." Peter Laviolette and the Predators staff often mention it. The statistical trends can be used as indicators of whether the process is working.
Of course, this is a results-based game, and it's played by humans. The formula can change. Injuries can occur (with a few recent injuries, the Predators' depth is currently being tested). Bad puck luck can lead to temporary consternation. Players run hot and cold.
After 22 games, the Preds are not where they want to be yet. But key stats are telling us the arrow is pointed in the right direction.