Predators and Rangers: Why Are They So Good? (A Fancy Stats Analysis)

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The two hottest teams in the NHL right now are the Nashville Predators and New York Rangers. The teams came into this season with completely different expectations: the Rangers were expected to have a strong year, coming off a Stanley Cup Final berth in 2014. The Predators were coming off two straight losing seasons, and had a new coach in Peter Laviolette, and a new top-six forward in James Neal. Expectations were quite low.

Despite this, the teams are built similarly. Both have some solid top-end talent (Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis for the Rangers, James Neal for the Predators), great rookies (Kevin Hayes in New York, Filip Forsberg in Nashville) and two of the world’s best goaltenders (Henrik Lundqvist and Pekka Rinne).

The Predators currently sit atop the NHL standings, and the Rangers have won nine of their last ten games (as of January 13th). So, why are these two squads winning so much?

Scoring and Saving

On the surface, it appears as if the teams are winning the same way: they are both scoring at an incredible rate, and benefiting from phenomenal goaltending and defense. The Predators are first in the league in Goals For percentage (ratio of goals for and goals against) in close games (tied or within one goal) at 62%. The Rangers are not far behind in fourth, with a GF% of 56.6%.

Essentially, both teams are scoring at a higher rate than their opponents.

Another stat in common between the two is PDO, a metric that measures save percentage plus shooting percentage. Nashville and New York are one and two in the category in close gameplay, at 102.3 and 101.5, respectively. They are scoring goals, and their opponents aren’t.

So, we see that these teams find success simply by scoring, and by doing a great job at stopping the other team from scoring. But, how are these teams scoring so much? To answer that question, we have to look at shot/possession metrics. From this perspective, we see two completely different teams.

Shot Quantity

The Predators find their offensive success by firing on all cylinders. They are one of the best teams at generating shots. Corsi is a stat that measures shots on goal + shots missed + shots blocked. To date, the Predators are number one in the NHL in Total Corsi For (Close), with 1,372 shots attempted. They are also second in the league in Corsi For Per 60 Minutes of Gameplay (Close), with 60.5.

Essentially, the Predators are scoring a lot because they’re shooting a lot. This is a far cry from last season, when they were one of the worst shooting teams in the league in close gameplay, sitting at 23rd at the end of the 2013-14 campaign.

Shot Quality

The Rangers, on the other hand, are finding their scoring in the quality of their shots. They are actually one of the worst teams at generating shots. They sit at 26th in the league in Corsi for, with 1,014. Only Toronto, New Jersey, Columbus, and Buffalo are worse at generating shots than the Rangers (not exactly good company). They are 20th in the league in Corsi For Per 60 Minutes as well.

The Rangers are choosing quality over quantity when it comes to shooting. They are not generating many shots, but when they do shoot, they find a way to put the puck in the net. They are taking “better” shots, as opposed to “many” shots. There isn’t really a good metric to measure shot quality, but the difference between Corsi and goals metrics paints this picture pretty clearly.

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Two hot teams with two different approaches: the Predators bombarding the net, and the Rangers with their few, but quality, scoring chances. Both approaches are valid, and both are clearly working for both squads.

ALL STATS COURTESY OF STATS.HOCKEYANALYSIS.COM AND ARE UPDATED AS OF 1/13/15

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