Entering The Series
The Detroit Red Wings are coming off of a Jekyll and Hyde series against the Florida Panthers. They started off the series by laying an egg in an unwatchable 7-2 loss where Thomas Greiss was chased after the first period. The team rebounded nicely in the next day’s showdown winning a 2-1 defensive battle. The effort over the weekend was similar to that of their next opponent, the Nashville Predators, who split their own weekend series. Although the points earned were the same from the two teams, Nashville played the Columbus Blue Jackets closer, losing the first matchup 3-0, and bouncing back in their own right to earn a 4-2 victory. At the conclusion of the series, Nashville remained one point above Detroit, while the Red Wings have three games in hand. At first glance, the next series appears as if it will be close.
Offense — Nashville
The Nashville Predators remain third from the bottom in goals for/games played (GF/GP) averaging 2.29. Leading the way for this squad is Filip Forsberg with 15 points. Forsberg’s 15 points place him as just the 45th highest scorer in the league. Digging into the statistics further supports the notion that this offense is struggling, as their high danger chances for (HDF) are sitting at 28, a full 20 less than the league average. Expected goals for (xGF), actual goals for (aGF), and shooting percentage (S%) all fall well below the league average as well according to hockey-reference.com. The Predator’s offense improves for them on the man advantage slightly, where they capitalize 15% of the time. This is their most impressive offensive statistic, yet it still places them in the bottom quarter of the league. This unit for Nashville has struggled this season.
Offense — Detroit
Suffice it to say, all of the statistics mentioned above for Nashville that sounded bad, look worse for Detroit. The Red Wings are one of the two teams averaging less GF/GP than Nashville (1.95) and have a lower S% (7.1%). Detroit does generate more HDF than the Predators, while their xGF is indicative that they should be scoring more goals, outpacing the league average. Dylan Larkin is the leading scorer for the Red Wings with 11 points, but this places him just 95th in league scoring. The news only gets worse when observing Detroit’s powerplay, as they are converting a league-worst 6.5% of the time. The eye test would not tell you this as there has been solid pressure with the man-advantage over the past few games. There is no debating that the powerplay must be better to lift the offense as a whole.
Defense — Nashville
The names on this defense would not suggest a unit that is top five in goals allowed/games played (GA/GP). Captain Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm are just a few names in this solid veteran group. Surprisingly, while allowing 3.35 GA/GP, the defensive statistics are not bad at five versus five. They are allowing less high danger chances against (HDA) than league average, while their expected goals against (xGA) are right on par. If you are connecting the dots, average, and above-average numbers at five versus five, means that the penalty-kill is dragging them down. If that was what your spidey-senses were telling you, you are correct. There is only one team allowing powerplay goals at a higher rate than Nashville. The Predators are allowing a goal on their penalty-kill almost one out of every three chances. Penalty-killing has been the Achilles heel of this team.
Defense — Detroit
Once again, you can almost copy everything mentioned above about Nashville and paste it in this section (except for the Red Wings having a player like Josi). The xGA is on par with the league average, while the Detroit blue-liners are allowing less than the average HDA. Defensive play during five versus five situations are the strength of this team. Much like Nashville however, once Detroit goes down a man, their defensive problems compound. Detroit is allowing a powerplay goal on just under 30% of attempts. This performance has earned them placing in the bottom-five in yet another crucial measurable.
Goaltending — Nashville
The Predator’s goaltending performance is the most head-scratching of them all. Pekka Rinne at 38 years old is showing his age. Juuse Saros, the heir apparent to Rinne, has not played well enough to claim the throne. Nashville was supposed to have a 1 and 1a goalie situation. This just is not the case, as Rinne has quality starts (QS) in just five of his eight games started. Saros is well below that, churning out a QS just 33% of the time. Neither member of the Predators tandem has a stellar save percentage (SV%) with Rinne posting a 0.908 SV% and Saros a 0.82 SV% respectively. When compared to the rest of the league, Rinne is playing average in net with 0.3 goals saved above average (GSAA), while Saros’ GSAA is -6.2. Nashville needs more from this duo to be competitive.
Goaltending — Detroit
Once again, there are similarities in a position group between the two teams. The Red Wings Jonathan Bernier has been the more consistent of the tandem that includes Thomas Greiss. Due to an injury, Bernier has only started seven games this season. In those games, he has five QS equating to four wins. His SV% is 0.910, and his GSAA is 0.8. Greiss through 13 games has turned in five QS earning one win. His SV% is 0.891 with a -5.1 GSAA. Detroit expected more out of Greiss after signing him as a free agent this past offseason. Like Nashville, the Red Wings are hoping for better play from their collective netminders.
Conclusion and Prediction
This series sees a couple of doppelgangers taking the ice starting Tuesday Night. These teams are eerily similar when comparing them on paper. As such, predicting a split would be easy. It may be a split, but I am calling for the Red Wings to pull a minimum of three points in this series as Nashville wraps up a week of being on the road. Time away from home for the opponent, and Red Wings being thrashed recently will be the story of the series. The embarrassment of the first game of the Florida series will still be fresh enough in the minds of the players wearing the winged-wheel to fuel them as they wrap up their homestand.