Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Were the Predators Built For the Playoffs?

The second round exit by the Predators will be cause in the coming days for a lot of analysis of this team and the composition of the roster. There will be attempts to determine why the Predators, a team many felt had been "built for a deep playoff run" crashed to earth with a thud against the Phoenix Coyotes.

One can look at any number of metrics to analyze the performance of the Predators in the playoffs, but I believe it ultimately comes down to the ability of a player to produce in the playoffs at least as consistently as in the regular season.The hope is that in the playoffs that the players on the roster will elevate their games. That is a hallmark of successful teams in the chase for the Cup.

The best measure of playoff performance is Points Per Game (PPG), and it is instructive to look at regular season performance compared to playoff performance on a PPG basis.

So how did the Predators PPG production from key players compare in the regular season and the playoffs? Here are the numbers, with regular season PPG and playoff PPG after each players name:


Erat                     .81   .40                                     
Fisher                  .71   .40                                   
 Legwand            .67   .60
S. Kostitsyn        .57   .20
Hornqvist            .56   .40
Wilson                 .51   .25
Smith                   .50   .50
Bourque              .44   .50
Tootoo                .38   .00
Halischuk            .38   .20
Yip                      .28   .20
Spaling                .28   .30

Weber                 .63   .30
Suter                   .58   .40
Klein                   .32   .40
Bouillon               .17   .30

We all know that not every forward played a full compliment of 10 games in this playoff season, but when inserted into the line up, they were expected to produce when they had an opportunity.  That is why comparing PPG production in the regular season to playoff PPG is instructive.

Notice anything about the list above?

Four players- Bourque, Klein, Spaling, and Bouillon increased their PPG production in the playoffs. Smith stayed the same in his limited playoff appearances. The remainder of the roster suffered a drop in production, some of which was significant.

Granted, the playoffs are a limited number of games, but  production is more critical precisely because there are a limited number of games. It is cliche but true that your best players have to be your best players. Translated, they have to produce on the big stage of the playoffs. The games matter more, and failure in a round is final.

The Predators suffered in the playoffs and in particular against the Coyotes because their best players did not adequately produce. Part of this is the intensified defensive pressure that is exerted by an opponent in all rounds of the playoffs, more so as a team advances. The Predators encountered this very situation in the second round as the Coyotes "out-Predatored the Predators" with great goaltending, a stifling forecheck, and aggressive defense. It is in those types of games that a team's best players have to find a way to produce and break through offensively.

So you know, I examined the numbers from the past two seasons to compare regular season PPG against playoff PPG performance by the players who are currently on the roster and were on the roster then. The numbers are surprisingly similar. In the 2010-11 season, 4 players produced at a higher level in the playoffs than they did in the regular season (Legwand, Fisher, Spaling, and Klein). In the 2009-10 season, two players increased their playoff PPG over their regular season PPG (Erat, Legwand).

Part of the disappointment of the loss in the playoffs this year is that the Predators added the pieces that were supposed to give them the talent to get them over the hump and compete for the Cup. Alexander Radulov played 8 playoff games and produced 6 points (.75 PPG), and that sounds good until you realize that 5 of those points came in the first round against Detroit. Andrei Kostitsyn played 8 games and had 4 points (.50 PPG) but was generally ineffective against the Coyotes.Paul Gaustad had 2 points in 10 games (.20 PPG), but was not counted on for significant scoring presence. Hal Gill had no points in 5 playoff games.

These numbers point out that although the Predators have enjoyed regular season success, they have generally fizzled in the playoffs. More specifically, the players that have been counted on to produce- and did produce in the regular season- have not elevated their game in the playoffs.

So what is the problem?

Is it coaching? In a word, no. Barry Trotz and the coaching staff don't suddenly get stupid when the playoffs roll around. In fact, I would contend that Trotz and the coaches do a good job of getting the best match ups they can on the ice and make good adjustments during the course of a series. I know that there will be those that second guess the decision to bench Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn during game 4 of the Coyotes series, but I agree with the call. That will, however, be a point of debate throughout the off season.

More importantly, it is the inability of the Predators to produce in the crucible of playoffs.

Lacking high end scorers, the Predators scramble throughout the regular season for goals. Goal production was up this year as Nashville finished 8th in the League with 2.83 goals per game. The Predators scored by committee, with only two players (Hornqvist, 27 and Fisher, 24) scoring more than 20 goals. In the playoffs, opponents can focus on shutting down the top scorers and have done so rather effectively. When this happens, the "committee" has to step up, but in the face of intense defensive pressure, have proven that they are unable to do so.The numbers bear this out.

The lament of Predator fans in the series against the Coyotes was that the team could not finish their scoring chances.


That is what clutch scorers do. That is the calling card of high end scorers in the face of playoff defensive pressure.

And the numbers show that is what the Predators lack.

And it leads me to believe that the Predators were not really built for success in the playoffs.

So now the Predators face an off season full of questions, not the least of which is how the roster will look next season. Personnel changes will happen, as GM David Poile has to examine this roster and attempt to sign players that will allow the Predators to not only continue to be successful in the regular season, but in the playoffs as well.

The building process is going to change the face of this team.

Hopefully for the better.

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