Paul McCann: Sunday Shots – Winning Close

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On Saturday nights at Bridgestone Arena, SlapShot Radio’s photographer captures the color and the action from a Smashville Saturday Night, here are today’s Sunday Shots…

Courtesy SlapShot Radio / DLM – full album at SlapShotRadio.com

No doubt about it, the Nashville Predators are on a roll. After four straight wins, the Predators begin the month of December at the top of the Western Conference standings and tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the top spot in the NHL.

The latest win, a 2-1 victory over Columbus last night to close out the homestand, has been fairly typical for the Predators. Excellent 5-on-5 play, timely scoring, excellent defense and of course… the Eraser make sure that a tight game stays that way.

This team is winning games this season that they have dropped over the past two seasons. Nashville is 11-3-2 in one goal games this season, including the last four wins. The Predators have maintained their defensive responsibility while increasing their shooting. The fancy stats gang will tell you that a regression is coming. Why is that? It can be explained fairly simply… the top line has been producing at an exceptionally high rate… especially on things like shooting percentage. The analysis could very well prove to be correct. The Predators 5-on-5 shooting percentage is unsustainable… but that inevitable regression (which may have already started, but not showing in the points column yet) can be covered by the needed improvement in the power play.

The Predators Power Play is 1-41 at home this season, overall, the PP is converting at a 12.2% rate. That means the team’s road power play percentage is a respectable 24.2% (8-33). That may be the most puzzling thing about this issue. The road power play has produced solid chances and gotten results. The home power play hasn’t seen a goal since the home opener. The fact that Nashville has been so dominant at home without the benefit of a productive man advantage unit is stunning.

So what is the answer? Mike Ribeiro was quoted last night “We just need to keep doing what we do and shoot pucks at the net … Once we get a few in, we’ll stop talking about it.” That may be the case, but some disquieting things showed themselves last night… things that Pred Nation have long been concerned with… the “cute” factor was high on the four power play opportunities seen last night. The extra pass, the reluctance to shoot, the passing up of solid opportunities… all were in evidence last night. That happens when a unit isn’t producing the way they need to. So Ribeiro may be right. Perhaps it is just a matter of simplifying… and getting shots while on the man advantage.

As the 5 on 5 play comes back down to earth from a perspective of the advanced stats, the lost production can be replaced by improved performance on special teams. We know this team is good, we know this team is for real… fixing the home power play is the next step in the Nashville Predators evolution to serious contender.

And here are your highlights from last night…

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Random Notes

– Colin Wilson’s game winner last night is a payoff for his excellent play of late. He is rounding into the kind of player expected when he was drafted.

– Last night was Seth Jones’ 100th NHL game.

– The Predators have a significant presence among the league leaders, Filip Forsberg continues to lead in +/- at a +20 and Pekka Rinne leads the league in goaltender wins at 16. Rinne is also second in GAA and Save Pecentage behind Winnipeg backup (soon to be starter?) Michael Hutchinson.

– Gotta give full props to CBJ goalie Curtis McElhinny for his outstanding performance last night. He certainly earned second star honors.

– The Predators hit the road for a game before returning to Bridgestone Arena, Tuesday at Carolina before hosting St. Louis and Chicago to close out the week.

– Look out… the Chicago Blackhawks went 5-1 on their annual “Circus Road Trip” and are lurking just three points back.

– Last night got nasty in St. Paul as the Blues took down the Wild… and got under Zach Parise’s skin, driving some bulletin board material from the Wild forward.

– Speaking of nasty… a line brawl erupted in the third period of last night’s Milwaukee / Charlotte game. A brawl that included a goalie fight and 82 penalty minutes.

– Flyers coach Craig Berube got his vote of confidence yesterday… changes needed in Philly and it doesn’t look to be behind the bench. It may be time to finally blow up the Flyers and rebuild completely.

– Only one game today, a 1pm CT start for the Canucks @ Red Wings.

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