Maybe Nashville didn’t need Ryan Suter, after all.
In what’s becoming the story of the season for the Predators, Nashville’s defense, headlined by defenseman Shea Weber and goalie Pekka Rinne, is killing it night-in and night-out. Ten games into the season, the Predators lead the NHL in fewest goals allowed per game (1.8). To put that in perspective, only one team (St. Louis, 1.89) finished last season lower than two goals per game.
Last night’s contest was another fantastic display of defense for the Predators, who shut out the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Los Angeles Kings, by a 3-0 count. The Predators were out-shot, 32-14 (a bit of a concern – more on that later), but Rinne, as we’re accustomed to seeing, rose to the occasion again.
Rinne has established himself as one of the NHL’s best goalies, and his 93.3 saves percentage ranks sixth in the NHL. But according to coach Barry Trotz, All-NHL defenseman Shea Weber has a lot to do with Nashville’s success, too, even if it’s not as evident on the stat sheet.
Trotz bristled at a question over Weber’s lack of scoring at last night’s press conference; Weber didn’t register his first point of the season until getting an assist last night, and is just plus-1 for the year after a plus-21 campaign last season.
“He is playing Norris Trophy caliber. I don’t care if he gets any points,” Trotz said, adding that Weber got off to a slow scoring start last year and still wound up with 49 points.
Okay, maybe saying that the Predators don’t miss Suter, who signed with Minnesota in the off-season, is a stretch; he wasn’t a second-team All-NHL selection for nothing last year. The Predators tried pairing Weber with Roman Josi; that didn’t work, so now they’re on to Scott Hannan, who’s third on the team in ice time (21.56) but also sporting a team-worst minus-2 rating. (Interestingly enough, Suter’s posted a minus-7 in Minnesota so far, though that’s not exactly a fair comparison since the Predators are the better team right now.)
Instead, it’s Nashville’s seven-man committee approach on defense that’s somehow doing the trick. The Kings, by contrast, go with the more conventional six-man rotation, but as L.A. coach Darryl Suter said last night, “they’re clearly better (with) seven than we are with six.” Last night’s game was no anomaly, as the Preds have now given up just three goals in their last four games.
The Predators’ biggest problem right now is being out-shot; it’s hard to maintain the success rate (Nashville is now 5-2-3 after last evening) after being out-shot in nine of 10 games. But 18 teams have given up more shots than Nashville’s 28.3 per game, so the issue is the fact that the Predators are taking just 21.0 shots per game, which is far and away the worst mark in the NHL.
That’s really going to be the issue with this team going forward; Trotz recognizes it, saying that the team too often waits for its defenders to come help rather than taking shots when it might initially have some looks. On the other hand, the patience has paid off in some ways; the looks the Predators had last night were good ones, which might be a reason the team has scored nine times the last two games despite just 33 total shots.
Regardless, we knew offense might be an issue with this team since it’s not built around elite scorers. What we didn’t know is whether the defense would take a step back, but Trotz has to be thrilled with the results so far, especially considering the team has played a murderous schedule so far, with most of the games on the road, to boot.