The Nashville Predators are currently 11-11-6 and sit outside the playoffs with 28 points. They have limped through their last 10 games, going 3-6-1, and more troubling, are last in the NHL in scoring.
Predator faithful are questioning if this is a playoff team.
It is a legitimate question.
There is no simple answer to that question, but we can bring some clarity by examining the various components of this team.
So let's take a look at this version of the Predators.
Pekka Rinne has been the workhorse for the Predators, starting 25 of the 28 games the Predators have played. Rinne has a 2.20 GAA and a save percentage of .916. He has faced 632 shots, an average of 25 shots per game. Rinne leads the NHL with 5 shutouts. Last season, Rinne had a 2.39 GAA and a .923 save percentage.
Looking at Rinne's numbers, one would conclude they are not bad. A marginal drop off in save percentage, but an improvement in GAA.
Rinne has been pulled in two consecutive games, and in seven in total this season.
There have been times that Rinne has been mortal, but for the most, his play has been solid. What has plagued Rinne has been the defense in front of him on occasion (more on that in a moment), as there have been numerous times that he has been hung out to dry by the skaters in front of him. And at times, his frustration has boiled over. Witness his slamming of the stick on the post in the first Dallas game as Scott Hannan was beaten badly by a Stars forward in the slot, leaving Rinne no chance to make the save.
One has to wonder how Rinne's frustration level is at this point of the season.
With the Predators anemic offense, both Rinne and Chris Mason have to be nearly perfect for the Predators to have a chance to win each night.
Chris Mason has appeared in 7 games, having started 3. He has a pedestrian 3.10 GAA and an .881 save percentage.
When Mason was signed, it was hoped that he would provide quality goaltending in the backup role. At best, he has been average.
Compared to last season, goaltending is comparable.
The obvious challenge for the Predators was to replace Ryan Suter. Roman Josi has been that player that has manned the other side of the blue line with Shea Weber. Josi is not Ryan Suter- yet. But the fall off between Josi and Suter has not been as dramatic as many feared. Josi has a great shot, skates well, and is poised and calm with the puck. Through 28 games, Josi is a plus 3 and has 3 goals and 6 assists. Extrapolate that to an 82 game season and you get 9 goals, 18 assists, and a plus 9. In Suter's last season, he had 7 goals, 39 assists, and was a plus 15.
I think those numbers for Josi will only improve.
In 2012, Shea Weber had 19 goals, 30 assists, and was a plus 21. So far in 2013, Weber has 4 goals, 11 assists, and is a plus 4. Over an 82 game season, this would translate to 12 goals, 32 assists, and a plus 12. The decline is understandable as Weber is getting used to a new defense partner and is being denied his cannon shot on the power play.
Kevin Klein has been quietly solid, with 1 goal, 5 assists, and a plus one. Klein is steady and is rarely noticed, which is a good thing as it means he is efficiently doing his job.
Once you get past these three, it gets interesting on the Predators blue line.
Hal Gill, who was expected to eat up big minutes, has been injured for a large portion of the season.
Ryan Ellis is...an adventure. Offensively gifted, he is proving to be a defensive liability. The coaches do a good job of trying to keep him away from the top forwards of the other teams, but Ellis is still a minus 4. While Ellis can provide some offense, he is regularly out muscled by bigger forwards, thus relegating him to more of a specialists role.
Jonathan Blum has gotten stronger, but is still on the smallish side, which is an obvious disadvantage against bigger forwards. Blum has five points (1G-4A) in 15 games, but has been relegated to a perma scratch over the last five games.
The reason for that is the emergence of Victor Bartley. Bartley was called up from Milwaukee and has been in the lineup for the past 5 games. Bartley has no points and is a plus 1, but he has good size, skates well, and makes good decisions with the puck. I don't see Bartley coming out of the lineup the way he is playing.
The blueliner that is having an absolutely miserable season is Scott Hannan. Hannan started well, playing some quality minutes and was generally solid. It seems as if Hannan has now run out of gas. He is a team worst minus 11 and is struggling with defensive coverage. He is routinely beaten in the defensive zone, and has quickly turned into a liability.
With the absence of Hal Gill, the defense has struggled once you get past Josi, Weber, and Klein. I think Bartley will settle in and be a positive contributor, but there is a huge hole in the third pairing, typically Hannan and Ellis. The play of that third pairing continues to trouble the Predators and does not look to improve any time soon.
The defense is weaker than last season.
Being last in the NHL in scoring is indicative of how this group has struggled.
And struggle they have.
At times, some of our top forwards have been invisible. And for a team that desperately needs offense, this is unacceptable.
And beyond explanation.
Here are some numbers:
Marty Erat 2012: 71 GP 19G-39A 58 points 2013 27 GP 3G-10A 13 points (9G-30A in 82)
Sergei Kostitsyn 2012: 75 GP 17G-26A 43 points 2013 27 GP 2G- 9A 11 points (6G-27A in 82)
David Legwand 2012: 78 GP 19G-34A 53 points 2013 28 GP 6G- 7A 13 points (18G-20A in 82)
Mike Fisher 2012: 72 GP 24G-27A 51 points 2013 28 GP 6G-6A 12 points (18G-18A in 82)
Colin Wilson 2012: 68 GP 15G-20A 35 points 2013 25 GP 7G-12A 19 points (23G-39A in 82)
Gabriel Bourque 2012: 43 GP 7G-12A 19 points 2013 26 GP 9G- 2A 11 points (28G- 6A in 82)
I have taken the production of these forwards for the games played in 2013 and projected it to an 82 game season and compared it to the previous season. What you notice is significant drops in production from Erat, Kostitsyn, and Fisher. Legwand projects to be about the same in goals but significantly drops in assists. For a second line center that has to set up his wingers, this will affect their production. Wilson has stepped up his game, but is currently injured. Bourque shows a significant increase in goal production. The Predators have had Patric Hornqvist in the lineup for only 14 games this season, and his production is sorely missed.
Additionally, The Predators enjoyed good secondary scoring from players like Matt Halischuk and Nick Spaling in 2012. Halischuk had 15 goals and 13 assists in 73 games last year. This season, he has struggled to stay on the roster and produce, having appeared in 19 games with 1 goal and 4 assists. Spaling appeared in 77 games last season with 10 goals and 12 assists. In 2013, Spals has appeared in 27 games and has 5 goals and 3 assists.
The slump in offensive production has plagued the Predators all season. Unless the production from the forwards improves significantly, the playoffs may not happen.
The forwards are substantially worse than last season.
Barry Trotz continues as the coach that has been able to squeeze the most out of his talent, but this season, that talent has not produced. I like the way Trotz and the staff have coached this team, but if there is a criticism, it is sticking with non-producing players for too long. He scratched Kostitsyn in the last game, but is not quick to sit down other players that are not getting it done. Perhaps it is time to sit some of the other forwards that are not playing up to their talent level.
Coaching has remained steady from last season.
David Poile has put this team together and these are his draft picks and trades. Is Poile "married" to these players- loath to trade some of them for other options because they are his players? I would submit that this is the case and that he is waiting, perhaps for too long, for some of these players to validate his decisions to sign them, and to sign some to long term, high dollar extensions.
Time for David Poile to make some tough decisions.
As you can see, the Predators are struggling because of the offense slump by key cogs on the team. If the play doesn't improve substantially, or if these players continue in the lineup, the Predator faithful may be looking wistfully at the the playoffs.