Running the numbers this early in the season doesn’t make sense. All it yields are statistical anomalies. Take this for instance: 57% of the Nashville Predators’ games have gone to shootouts. Or how about this: while the Preds were tied for 27th in power play chances coming into Thursday night, they were 14th in terms of their effectiveness. One more: they were 28th in terms of power plays given up. That’s good. But only 17th in effectiveness. Thus while they get few power plays and give few, they are only mediocre at capitalizing on their chances and only middling good in terms of defending against the other team with the extra man.
All of that will probably wash out by the end of the year. What won’t be erased are the two points they stole from the LA Kings on a fourteen-shot performance that yielded but one goal. Incidentally, this is not their worst offensive output of the year. They had just 13 shots against the Blues in their fourth game. They lost that game 3-0.
This offensive constriction carries over from the last three games, in which Nashville has been averaging just over 18 shots on goal. They allow considerably more, of course, with 28 being the average they posted a couple of days ago. The Kings put 24 on their goaltender, Rinne, on Thursday evening.
If those numbers mean anything, they might indicate a boring contest. In spots, it was dull. But when the teams caught fire, they had some good offensive push. Nashville came out early with a goal. They scored at 58 seconds. The rest of the first period was described by their coach afterwards by saying, “I thought we got off to a good start, and then we took penalties which took a lot of momentum away. But we clogged up a lot of things that we wanted to do in terms of the neutral zone.”
The Kings had more chances than their guests during the first period, mostly because they were allowed four power plays in the frame. On the first, Jake Muzzin got a cross-ice pass but couldn’t get a shot on net. On the second, Mike Richards got off a wrister in the slot, but he waited too long, and the puck was knocked down the ice.
They scored on a wrist shot by Drew Doughty which must have hit the glass behind the net flat, because it came out to the front of the net slowly. Dustin Brown reached behind him to get it in the slot and sweep in into the net. At this point, the shots were 6-3 for LA. Ending a period where you took eight minutes in minor and had three shots but were tied at ones must have looked pretty good to the Predators.
The way things have gone this season so far, Nashville comes on in the third, registering their highest shot totals of the game. The Kings are best in the second period. Thursday night, Nashville had five in the second and three in the third, while LA took five shots in the second and seven in the third, so throw the averages out the window, please.
Neither team scored the rest of the way, though the Kings’ Simon Gagne took a high wrister off of Rinne’s shoulder in the third period as the goalie ducked his head. The Kings shortly followed that up with a shot from the point by Alec Martinez which was knocked down in front. The Kings got it again and shot it into the crowd of Nashville players which had gathered in front of the net.
The OT period showed the Preds with a little fire, with David Legwand creating a chance trying to feed a man in front, forcing the Kings to ice the puck. With two minutes left, defenseman Ryan Ellis took a shot in front, saved by Quick, and a teammate got the rebound, which Quick also stopped. They were his two best saves of the night. About the late going, Coach Trotz said to IH, “You know, I was praying a lot, but I didn’t light any fires [in the team]. It would have been great if at the end of the game, Clune would have scored. I think it was about four minutes to go [in regulation].”
Good because he is a former Kings’ prospect and player who got into 14 games with the 2009-10 Kings and has been in the AHL since that time, before Nashville grabbed him. It would have been his first NHL goal. He has two assists. He had five hits credited, but no shots on goal. Naturally, Trotz was speaking more of the potential win on Clune’s stick that what the goal would have meant personally to the player.
Trotz continued: “In the overtime we had a good push there and some chances. We started moving, getting active again, so those, I wish we would have got it in regulation. It would have been a lot easier on the heart.”
The shootout went eight rounds, with the usual mixture of slow dekes and a spectacularly fast rush by Sergei Kostitsyn to end it. He flew down the ice, deked, and fired it past Quick. After, IH asked him about his strategy.
“What I want to do, is I want to shoot it after I read the goalie, if I’m gonna go speed or if I’m gonna go slowly. Sometimes the players go slow, sometimes fast; depends on the goalies.”
When asked whether he had been watching the goalie to see what approach to take, he grinned and said, “Yes.” No elaboration needed.
To explain this win, Coach Trotz said, “I think we would have been mentally scarred if we hadn’t won that one. You go, this is game seven, we’ve been in four shootouts, and we were [zero] for three. Obviously, tonight we got a couple of goals, which is good.” (The shootout actually was 4-3 over the eight rounds.)
When IH asked him whether it was their approach to play for the shootout, Coach Trotz laughed and said, “Trust me, it’s not part of our plan, but when you’re 0-3 in shootouts, the last thing you want to do is go to another one, so that, we’re on the road. The other team has last change. We’re trying to get a little bit of order in our game. I don’t think we’ve hit stride at all. We’re just sort of grinding out points, and that’s what you have to do. You’re not going, on top of your game totally, you have to find ways to get points. Either great goaltending, or, tonight I thought penalty killing was really good. Took too many penalties, obviously.”
Later, he added, “It’s probably a blessing in disguise we won in a shootout, because trust me, when you lose three shootouts in a row, and two of them at home, those feel like losses. They don’t feel like wins, but you get a point. They’re valuable points too. We haven’t been beaten too much in regulation time. Four of our games have ended in shootouts.”
Stating the obvious, to be sure, but making the point nonetheless that the team has struggled to put up numbers, a struggle which has statistical interest but is more important because it allows Nashville to keep their heads above water, at least for the time being.
Still no sign of Penner in the lineup. Both he and the coach are saying nice things in the media. That might not still be true in a week or so.
A reporter tried to get Sutter to talk about goaltending by asking at the morning skate who the evening’s backup would be. “Stupid question,” or something to that effect, were Sutter’s words. As usual, Bernier sat on the bench.
Follow Brian on twitter @growinguphockey