Sharks vs. Predators: Sizing up Nashville's offense
We take a look at Nashville's offensive firepower.
With the Sharks second round tilt with the Predators set to get going tomorrow night, we take a look at how the teams' offense matches up. We'll have a post up on special teams play within the next 24 hours, so let's keep this offensive analysis to even strength play.
Nashville scored 142 even strength goals during the regular season, just five fewer than San Jose, but that's not from a lack of trying. The Predators finished fourth in the NHL with a FF60 (fenwick for per 60 minutes) of 41.5. That mark bests San Jose's 12th ranked 40.2, but admittedly isn't the best source for evaluating offense.
Scoring chances help tell part of the story, but high-danger scoring chances (HDSC) gets us even closer to a team's expected offensive output. Over the course of the regular season, nobody created HDSC at even strength like the Sharks. San Jose averaged 12 per 60 minutes of even strength time, while Nashville's impressive FF60 only got them to 19th in HDSC with a mark of 10.5.
James Neal (24 goals, 13 assists), Filip Forsberg (21 goals, 13 assists) and Craig Smith (20 goals, 13 assists) top Nashville in even strength goals. Neal generally plays on the first line with Calle Jarnkrok and Ryan Johansen while both Forsberg and Smith spend time on the second line with Mike Ribeiro. Once you drop past those top two lines, Nashville's scoring dwindles. While much has been made of the Sharks' Joe Thornton line carrying the team, San Jose might have the edge in terms of depth scoring in this series.
In terms of possession play, Nashville certainly holds the edge, albeit a slight one. The Predators finished second in the NHL in FF% at 53.7 while the Sharks managed a mark of 53.1. Not a lot to separate these teams on that basis, but it's interesting to note who the Predators relied on to drive possession.
While the Neal line is listed as the top unit, this chart from HockeyViz.com shows the Predators lean on the second line of Ribeiro-Forsberg-Smith to drive their possession. It'll be interesting to see how Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer dictates matchups in this series. Will he let the Thornton line run rampant against a weaker first line for Nashville? Or will he play his best against Nashville's best line?
Other standouts (that are still on the team — sorry Seth Jones) include Shea Weber and Roman Josi. Both contribute to a high volume style of play, similar to any time Brent Burns touches the ice. Mike Fisher and Viktor Arvidsson, who play on Nashville's third line, also stand out as positive possession drivers.
Looking just at the last 25 games, the chart from HockeyViz.com below shows every team in the league's shots for and against.
From this chart you can see the Sharks hold a distinct advantage in limiting the opposition's shots, while the teams' shot generation is about even. That's probably a fair conclusion — both teams have good, not great, offenses and it's more likely special teams and defense will be the deciding marks in this series.