Oh boy, where to begin… The Nashville Predators lost to the San Jose Sharks by a score of 5-4. The first two periods were utterly dominated by the Nashville JoFAs, I mean Predators. Then, heartbreak hit in the third as a tired, or relaxed Predators allowed the Sharks to claw their way back into the game.
As the Sharks tied it, I started to have a gut feeling. No, it wasn’t one that made me search frantically for a bathroom, instead, it’s one I’ve had too many times before. The Sharks were too hot and too focused to be stopped. An objectively bad call allowed the Sharks another power play opportunity and they wouldn’t be denied. Brent Burns rifled a shot past poor Juuse Saros and the game seemed over. I say seemed, because there were two minutes or so left, but the Predators looked defeated. They resorted to dump and chase hockey and never really established meaningful possession for the rest of the game.
Still, there’s a lesson to be learned in every game, so let’s see what the numbers have to say about this collapse.
Do you even need a full team when you have JoFA? No, really, I’m asking because those three were the only forwards to show up on Tuesday night. Only two other players besides JoFA had any points as Craig Smith and Ryan Ellis both registered exactly one tally. All the Sharks had to worry about was shutting down the terrifying trio, but the Predators’ best line made Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Erik Karlsson sweat the entire night.
Through 12 minutes and 22 seconds at five on five, JoFA was on fire. They produced 16 unblocked shot attempts and 14 shots on net. Not only did JoFA dominate the quantity, but they also dominated the quality of shots too. The trio produced eight out the Predators’ eight high danger scoring chances and were rewarded with four goals because of it. Peter Laviolette did a good job of recognizing their potency and had them on the ice any chance he got.
What more can you ask from your top line than four goals?
Every Other Forward Besides JoFA
Ouch. I can’t remember the last time I saw such a top-heavy effort. The fourth line was probably the second best unit, which is terrible. They sported above 57% Corsi’s and 66% Fenwick’s, but they only produced eight shot attempts and four unblocked attempts. Not to mention that they produced no offense of quality either, and actually gave up a high danger chance. It’s hard for me to advocate for any of these three, but it could’ve been worse eh?
The third line was a big disappointment, but that’s becoming a bit standard. I actually really like Calle Jarnkrok (who had a decent game when accounting for zone exits and neutral zone turnovers) and Ryan Hartman (who had a relatively bad game). They’re the only two I can see putting up somewhere between 15 and 20 goals, but I guess they’re not good enough for power play time. Instead, Nick Bonino takes up the position. My friend who accompanied me to the game had an interesting epiphany during the third period, he said “After the first period, I wanted Bonino off the power play. After the second period, I think I want him off the team”. I get that it’s harsh, but I have trouble blaming my friend. Bonino is being paid handsomely and not really performing. His defense is fine, although it can be carried by Jarnkrok, but his offense vanishes constantly. Who could’ve predicted he wouldn’t put up similar numbers once you took Phil Kessel off his wing?
Then there’s the second line… This hurts to write, mostly because Kevin Fiala is a master at entering the offensive zone with possession as well as exiting the defensive zone with possession, and Craig Smith is an analytics darling. Come to think of it, besides Smith’s defense, I have nothing negative to say of him so far this season. Fiala, on the other hand, is in a streak so cold that I shiver just thinking about it. The second line was on the ice for two goals against at five on five (although Smith came off for a line change during). They also gave up one high danger chance.
Smith has actually been one of the best Predators so far this season, though this game was undoubtedly his worst. The sample size is so small that his worst game in a total of eight doesn’t matter. Fiala should regress (or progress) to the mean and start actually scoring sooner rather than later. Switching him and Forsberg to jumpstart Fiala and the second line might not be the worst idea. But there’s still one issue, the center. Turris looks super pedestrian; his numbers are pretty bad. I’ll write a fun article once I have a decent sample size, but the point I’m trying to make is that he’s average at best. I really wished the Predators would’ve ponied up the first round pick to bring Duchene to Nashville.
I actually have no issue with the defense. They were great for most of the night until it became time to enter the zone, a team with P.K. Subban and Roman Josi shouldn’t struggle that badly. I wish the Predators played Dan Hamhuis for more than 5 minutes at five on five, but it’s not the end of the world.
40 Minutes Of Effort
Before we begin, take a look below.
You can almost pinpoint where exactly the game started to get away from the Predators, and no it wasn’t Dillon’s goal. That was a symptom of the problem, not why the Sharks came back. I hate this cliche, but it just seemed like the Sharks wanted it more when JoFA wasn’t on the ice.
Through two periods, the Predators controlled 51.79% of shot attempts against the best possession team in the NHL, while also controlling 51.28% of unblocked shot attempts. Quality was also in their favor as well, the Predators dominated high danger chances with a staggering 72.73% share. All was going well, untill the third period started. In the third alone, the Sharks controlled 70.59% of shot attempts and 69.23% of unblocked shot attempts, pretty nice if you ask me. The Predators didn’t manage a single high danger chance in the third but surrendered three, of which the Sharks scored on two.
I honestly thought the Sharks were toast after the second period, but taking a foot off the gas let them right back in the game.
All In All
In the interest of full disclosure, I grew up in San Jose and was raised as a Sharks fan. I’m not really a fan anymore as I’ve grown to love the entire NHL, but I always watch their games with morbid curiosity. That said, let’s talk controversy. The referees gave the Sharks a power play after Marc-Edouard Vlasic embellished, then the Sharks proceeded to score. It’s a lazy cop-out to say that the refs handed the game to the Sharks though.
Two mysterious calls went against the Sharks tonight. Ryan Johansen’s stick hit P.K. Subban (thanks u/Vorin) in the first period and a Shark went to the box, then the refs gave the Sharks’ bench a mysterious delay of game call for no explained reason. The difference is the Sharks made the most of their opportunities. If the Predators could score on one of their four power plays, this game would be tied and going to overtime, but the special teams failed once again.
It feels like we’ve been complaining about the power play for the last full year, why hasn’t anything changed? Surely the coaching staff can’t think that what they have now is working? They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, and I feel like I’m going bonkers every time the Predators fail to make a controlled possession entry on the power play.
All in all, I hope these two teams meet in the Western Conference Final and go deep into a seven-game serious. These are two talented clubs and each is stuffed with star power.