No matter what was said in the locker room after last night’s demoralizing 4-0 loss to the struggling Phoenix Coyotes, the actuality of the situation is very straightforward. Nashville’s offense, while potent last season and not without the ability to score, has stumbled out of the starting gate to begin this condensed season.
While the season hasn’t really begun the way the team probably envisioned it would, especially for Pekka Rinne and his inconceivable 0-2-3 start, Nashville’s hesitancy to put the puck on the net has been there Achilles’ Heel.
In 6 games so far this season, the Predators have averaged 23.2 shots on net against their opponents, enough to put them dead last in the entire NHL and a full 2.3 shots behind the next closest team in the Dallas Stars. What’s mind-boggling about that and what makes it so interesting is how far apart teams are in the “shots forced” category going up the ladder:
Nashville – 23.2
Dallas – 25.5
Anaheim – 25.5
Montreal – 27.2
Philadelphia – 27.3
Minnesota – 27.8
Los Angeles – 28.0
Florida – 28.2
New Jersey – 28.5
Tampa Bay – 28.6
Chicago – 28.7
Nashville, Dallas, and Anaheim all rank in at the bottom of the league in shots forced. However as the stats begin to even out with Montreal, teams begin to only be separated by (on average) 0.18 shots a game. Nashville is 2.3 shots a game behind Dallas and Anaheim, and 4 shots a game behind the rest of the pack.
The Predators inability to force enough shots has also cost them on the scoresheet as they average the second fewest goals per game (1.67) only ahead of the Florida Panthers (1.60). Last season, Nashville averaged 2.83 goals a game and 27.6 shots on net. While there is only a 6 game sample size for the Predators to take from so far, it’s very apparent what the outcome has shown because of it.
Looking directly at the player output for the Predators based on their shot totals:
Patric Hornqvist* – 16 shots on net, 1 goal
Shea Weber – 16 shots on net, 0 goals
Martin Erat – 13 shots on net, 2 goals
Mike Fisher – 13 shots on net, 1 goal
Roman Josi – 12 shots on net, 0 goals
Colin Wilson – 10 shots on net, 1 goal
David Legwand – 9 shots on net, 2 goals
Nick Spaling – 8 shots on net, 1 goal
Ryan Ellis – 7 shots on net, 1 goal
Brandon Yip – 7 shots on net, 1 goal
(* = injured player)
Smith (5 shots), Kostitsyn (3 shots), Halischuk (3 shots) have yet to register a goal either. Gabriel Bourque, who has returned for the past 4 games, has yet to even register a shot on goal in his time back.
Granted, the entire issue isn’t about how many shots are forced on net, however more about the quality of the shots. Nashville did put pressure on goaltenders Chad Johnson and Viktor Fasth during their separate outings, however for one reason or another it just didn’t pay off. Take for example last night against Chad Johnson. The second period was full of Nashville’s chances at scoring an equalizer or perhaps even multiple goals and take the lead, yet not being able to corral a puck or passing with a clear chance at burying a puck cost Nashville at least 2 goals last night.
One 20 minute period, however, of contained pressure on a goaltender isn’t going to ultimately produce points in the standings for a scoring-by-committee team like Nashville. The Predators only forced 3 (2 even strength and 1 powerplay) shots on Chad Johnson in the first period (only attempting 8 total) compared to the 5 shots (and 16 attempted) for the Coyotes. Nashville did, though, finish the game progressively better in each period (3 shots, 7 shots, and 11 shots in each).
Ultimately, shots on net has always been at a premium for Nashville over the course of their existence (only finishing with an average over 30 shots forced on goal once in the past decade), finishing at the bottom of the league in shots forced hasn’t been promising though. Since the 1998-1999 season, no team that finishes dead last in average shots on goal has made the playoffs.
Should Nashville be worried? While it’s very early in the season for anyone to jump ship, it’s a definite cause for concern. The Predators are going to have to dig deep and raise the shot count or else they may be in danger of becoming part of a disconcerting statistic.