Monday, December 15, 2014

Pekka Rinne is Having a Monster Year, Thanks to Team Defense

The Nashville Predators own the NHL's stingiest defense, allowing just 1.4 goals per game, and while the return to form of Pekka Rinne between the pipes has been a large factor, the Predators have also stepped up their team defense under their new coach Peter Laviolette.

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Nashville (19-8-2) has only allowed 57 goals on the season, and Rinne, a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist who missed most of last season due to an infection after hip surgery, has been a huge reason for that number. The 6'5" Finn is on pace for career-best save percentage and goals against averages, and he's No. 1 in the league in wins, save percentage and goals against average. But Rinne has been boosted by Nashville's vastly improved defense, and the advanced stats show it.

The chart below shows that Rinne and co. have allowed their opponents much lower shooting percentage numbers in 2014-15 (right on the chart) vs. 2013-14 (left). Numbers above one are above the league average in shooting percentage allowed, while numbers below one are below. In 2014-15, Nashville allowed more than the league average shot percentage from the vital areas in front of the crease and the slot.

Fast forward a year and one can see that Nashville is taking away those chances at an alarming clip. One could quickly credit Rinne's resurgence, and that would be partially correct to be sure, but it doesn't tell the whole story about the Predators newfound ultra-stinginess.

Rinne is seeing less shot attempts from his doorstep and the slot and high slot, and slightly more from the tops of the circles and points.

In other words, not only is Pekka Rinne healthy again, he's also been bolstered by a defense that is very good at limiting high-quality scoring chances from in close. That isn't to say that Nashville isn't giving up shots. Their Corsi against and Fenwick against numbers don't show much disparity from last season, but they are clearly prioritizing differently under Laviolette's scheme.