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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Nashville Predators at Game 70

On January 6th, On Goal Analysis called the Nashville Predators OUT of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. As of March 17th, the Predators are playing like a team determined to be a Shot Off The Post for OGA, and they may very well accomplish their goal. What changed in Nashville over the last two months? Let's take a look:

1. The return of Alexander Radulov...oh, wait: he's still in Russia.

2. The trade deadline blockbuster, in which the Preds...sent Cal O'Reilly and Alexander Sulzer down to Milwaukee. Hmmm...perhaps not.

3. The return of Steve Sullivan...yep; that's it.

Steve Sullivan's return to the ice after missing 153 games has been huge for Nashville, particularly over the last ten games. After an understandably slow start, Sully has found his groove, racking up 5 G, 7 A, and a +6 over this furlong. I can't find the link, and I can't remember exactly where I read this statement, so I'll apologize in advance to whomever I lifted this from:
"The return of Steve Sullivan could be (is) the equivalent of a major free agent signing."

Sullivan's scoring outburst has typified the Preds through the last ten games: Jason Arnott (6G,4A,+1), David Legwand (6G,4A,+9), J.P. Dumont (3G,10A,+3), Shea Weber (4G,5A,+5), Joel Ward (4G,5A,+4), Martin Erat (2G,6A,+3) and Ryan Suter (2G,6A,+1) have all made major contributions.

At the other end of the rink, Pekka Rinne has been stellar, posting rather gaudy numbers over the last ten games (7-1-0, 2 SO, 2.25 GAA, .919 sv%). Rinne was named NHL Rookie of the Month for February, and has sparked debate over which Central Division goalie might be more deserving of the Calder Trophy. As long as Rinne continues to perform at this level, the debate will rage on.

Taken as a whole, how do the Predators look at Game 70? Let's break it down:

Nashville went 7-2-1 over the last ten games, a significant improvement over their 5-4-1 record leading up to Game 60. Apparently, there's some sort of relationship between goal scoring and the W (note the use of sarcasm font here), as the Predators boosted their G/gm average to 2.50 (27th in the NHL) at Game 70 vs 2.30 (30th) at Game 60. While still ranked 29th in the league, the team's efficiency on the Power Play is up almost a full point, to 14.1% at Game 70 vs 13.3% at Game 60.

On the defensive side, team GAA has dropped to 2.70 (8th) at Game 70 vs 2.75 (T-9th) ten games ago. The Penalty Kill has also improved, to 84.7% (3rd) at Game 70 vs 83.8% (T-4th) at Game 60. The Preds are allowing roughly the same number of shots per game (29.3 now vs 29.2 at Game 60), so red-hot goaltending has been key.

Over the last ten games, Nashville has become a stronger first-goal team, with a win pct. when scoring first of .757 (7th) now vs .742 (9th) at Game 60, and a win pct. when trailing first of .212 (24th) now vs .172 (25th) at Game 60. The Preds are becoming a better shut-down team, too, posting a win pct. when leading after two periods of .913 (T-6th) now, compared to .882 (13th) ten games ago.

In short, the Nashville Predators are one of the hottest teams in the NHL right now. If they can sustain this level of play, the Preds will be playing after April 12th, and On Goal Analysis will be eating crow.

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