The Preds' first quarter of play in the 2019-2020 season started out strong, but has since slipped into mediocrity. While there have been mostly disappointments with this team, there has also been a few pleasant surprises sprinkled in. Let's take a look at these surprises, disappointments, and the met-expectations for the first quarter of the Predators' season as well as throughout the NHL.
Let's get the hard part out of the way first, shall we? There's quite a bit of negative territory to cover.
The Preds are currently sitting at sixth in the Central Division after going 2-6-2 over their last 10 games. Their 21 points are ranked at 26th place in the league. These kinds of rankings are uncharacteristic, and frankly, unacceptable from a team of this caliber. The Preds are going to have to make up a lot of lost ground if they want to be the top dogs in the Central for another year. St. Louis is tied with three other teams for second place in the league (they lead the Central) with 31 points, Colorado has 28 points, Winnipeg has 27, and Dallas has 26.
The team save percentage has fallen to dead last in the league at a .881 (tying with Detroit); neither Pekka Rinne or Juuse Saros are topping a .900. Rinne is getting old, and by and large, people can accept that he's going to start declining more and more over the next year or two. The scary part is this: Saros is poised to take over once Rinne moves on, and he's been putting up sub-par numbers since late last year. Saros has a 1-5 record so far this season, a .886 save percentage, and a 3.47 goals against average per game. Obviously not every problem can be contributed to a team's goalie tandem, but the numbers Rinne and Saros are posting are simply not sustainable.
Well, we got the power play back for the most part, but I guess it meant sacrificing the penalty kill as collateral. It is, without exaggeration, the worst. The Preds are killing off only 71.01 percent of opposing teams' power plays, putting them at dead last in the league. They have allowed 20 power play goals to be scored against them- tying with L.A. for the fourth- highest in the league.
Are Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson alive? We haven't heard as much as a whisper out of two of our top-end forwards since October. Yes, Arvidsson last scored a goal and an assist on Nov. 2 against the Rangers, but has since only notched three assists. For a player with the skill like Arvidsson's, 14 points in 21 games isn't cutting the mustard offensively. Johansen is in slightly worse shape goal-wise. With just two goals thus far this season (scored in the same Oct. 10 game against the Capitals), Johansen is on an incredibly rough scoring skid. He did, however, score his first goal since the Capitals game this Thursday against Vancouver. He has also put up 12 assists, bringing his point total to 15- one above Arvidsson. Two of the three JoFA components are combining for an exceptionally mediocre -5 on-ice rating.
It says something when your third-line center has more goals than Arvidsson and Johansen have this season. Nick Bonino has shown up more frequently than any other Pred has over the course of this losing streak. Bonino has six goals and an assist in the last 10 games and leads the team in +/- with a +7 rating. He also leads the Predators in even strength goals (8) and is third only to Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis (both defensemen, mind you) in aggregate Point Shares, with an average of 1.9 per game.
There's not too many more pleasant surprises to note with the Preds. Though it's not directly related to the Nashville Predators, but prospect Daniel Carr is ripping it up in the AHL for Milwaukee. In 15 games, Carr has tallied 10 goals and 10 assists (20 total points), leading the first-place Admirals and ranking seventh overall among AHL players. David Poile had the gall to call Steven Santini and Mathieu Olivier up during a horrendous losing streak, so why not toss Carr in for a game?
Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi continue to be steady forces on the ice for the Preds. Josi leads the team in points with 21, and Ellis is tied with Matt Duchene for the second-most at 17. The two defensemen also lead the team in aggregate point shares on both offense and defense, Josi with 3.0 and Ellis with 2.4. They are also tied for most assists on the team at 14. It's not a bad thing for your defensemen to be the highest scoring skaters on your team, but when no one else is putting forth an equal effort, it kind of casts a pall on the numbers.
Matt Duchene's insane start was halted when he was out short-term with an injury, but he's steadily made his way back to his scoring ways. He is tied with Ryan Ellis for the second-most points on the team at 17. Duchene has four goals and two assists in the last 10 games.
If anyone had put money on Ottawa being higher in the standings than Nashville by Thanksgiving, congratulations on being incredibly rich! As of today, the Senators are tied with four other teams at 23 points for 18th place in the league. For a team that finished dead last this past season and second-last in 2017-2018, it's kind of amazing. Center Jean-Gabriel Pageau is on a tear; he has two goals and two assists in his last three games and is tied with James Neal, Nathan MacKinnon, and Jack Eichel for the seventh-most individual goals in the league at 13. If Pageau can score just seven more goals this season, he'll set his career high (he scored 19 in 2015-2016). Pageau also leads the league in +/- ratings; his +17 is tied only with Pittsburgh's Brian Dumoulin. The Sens do have the worst power play in the league- converting only 10 percent of their opportunities- but if we learned anything from last year's Predators, they can still make the playoffs.
I guess I was wrong when I said Edmonton could never be successful if Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl were the only horses pulling the cart. The Oilers currently have 31 points, leading the Pacific Division, and are fifth place in the league standings. McDavid and Draisaitl each have 44 points- an identical 16 goals and 28 assists apiece- and sit side by side at the top of the individual skater rankings. The next highest scoring Oilers player? Oscar Klefbom... with 17 points. I mean, maybe they really can make the playoffs with just those two.
At the rate he's going, John Carlson is a lock for the Norris Trophy. He is currently tied with David Pastrnak for the fourth-most points in the league at 36, and is neck-and-neck with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl at 28 assists. At the quarter mark, Carlson is already more than halfway to breaking his single-season points record which he set last season at 70. Carlson also leads the league in aggregate point shares; he is averaging 5.9, offensively and defensively, per game.
Outside of the Preds, there are a few other tales of crumbling mediocrity so far this season, which makes us feel a little better.
We'll start with Toronto. Decently high favorites to win the Stanley Cup this season, the Maple Leafs have fallen to 17th in the standings and, on Wednesday, fired head coach Mike Babcock. The Leafs are right at .500 with a 10-10-4 record, ranking 25th overall the penalty kill (74.07 percent kill rate) and 19th overall in power play (17.57 conversion rate). Toronto's defense hasn't been anything to brag about; they are allowing both the second-most shots against in the league at 798 and goals against at 80. They already have a win under new coach Sheldon Keefe, but the work is far from over, especially when you play in the laser-focused criticism factory of Toronto. The Leafs are also dealing with Mitch Marner's absence, who won't be back until roughly mid-December with an ankle injury. Toronto may have gotten a little trigger-happy with Babcock's firing so early in the season, but this team certainly isn't going to fade away without a fight.
Even in the immediate aftermath of the first-round collapse at the hands of Columbus, Tampa Bay remained steady favorites to win the Stanley Cup in 2020. Going into October, that prediction remained the same. Except now, the Lightning are 23rd in the overall league rankings. They have a 20th-ranked penalty kill (79.10 kill rate), 14th-ranked goals-for (68), 19th-ranked team save percentage (.900), 29th-ranked total shots on goal (608), and third-most penalty minutes per game (11.4). Those aren't even close to the blockbuster numbers they were putting up last year. It's hard to comprehend how a team with the same amount and degree of talent they had during a 128-point season could manage such mediocre statistics. Individual stats are way down in Tampa as well. 2019 Hart Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov has only 18 points so far this season. Steven Stamkos leads the team in that metric with 20, but 20 points is ranking around 40th in the league right now. The Lightning do, however, have the third-best power play in the league with a 29.82 percent conversion rate.
A lesser-known but equally as significant decline is that of the Calgary Flames. A team that was projected to compete for the Western Conference at the start of the season, the Flames are now sitting around 20th overall with 25 points. Despite having the fourth-most power play opportunities (81), their power play is ranked 23rd with only a 16.05 percent conversion rate, but they're complementing it with a fifth-best 85.06 percent PK rate. Calgary is getting crushed primarily by a porous defense (sounds familiar). They have a .900 team save percentage, allowing the fourth-most goals against in the league at 78, third-most shots against at 783. Two of the stars of the team, Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, are combining for a -23 on-ice rating. Not only that, but all five of their top scorers this season have negative ratings.
It became apparent during Colorado's playoff run last year that *rhyme alert* Cale Makar is going to be a star. It's only November, but Makar is running off in the race for the Calder Trophy. Makar has 25 points so far this season and is sporting a +9 on-ice rating to boot. He is also leading the Avalanche in aggregate point shares at 4.0 per game, signaling his undeniable positive effect on all those who happen to be skating with him. Makar's point shares rank eighth overall in the NHL. Makar's impact is really no surprise; he was taken fourth overall in the 2017 draft and made his debut in the Avs' first playoff game of 2019, in which he recorded his first NHL goal- the game-winner, mind you. He went on to tally five assists in Colorado's remaining nine games, finishing his first playoffs with six points and a +3 rating.
The Bruins and Blues continue to uphold their respective titles. Boston has 35 points, St. Louis has 33, and both are trying to usurp Washington's seat at the top of the league. The Bruins have scored the third-most goals in the league at 83 and the third-best power play with a 31 percent conversion rate. The Blues have the fifth-best power play with a 24.3 percent conversion rate.