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These Nashville Predators might as well be a different team than the one the Canucks went 3-0 against earlier in the season (because of U2)

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Photo credit:© Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
1 month ago
Yesterday, this very same author published an article on this site entitled “Analyzing how the Vancouver Canucks beat the Nashville Predators in all three meetings this season,” spinning the tale of Vancouver’s 3-0 record in 2023/24 against eventual playoff opponent Nashville.
And now, we’ve got the rare self-rebuttal. Or is it just a buttal at this point?
Because as much as those three regular season victories still count, and as much as the data still matters, there’s a elephant in the room that needs to be addressed – and this elephant is about the size of the Vegas Sphere.
The current Nashville Predators might as well be a different team than the one the Canucks faced back in October and December of 2023. And that wasn’t an idle simile we used in the prior paragraph, either. As strange as it sounds, this particular turnaround has a lot to do with the Vegas Sphere.
The legend goes that back in mid-February, the Predators were meant to travel to Vegas immediately following their February 17 road game against St. Louis, despite not playing the Golden Knights until February 20. Why? To catch the February 18 U2 concert at the quickly-infamous Vegas Sphere.
But that did not happen. Before they even got to St. Louis, Nashville dropped a painful 9-2 home loss to the Dallas Stars.
Head coach Andrew Brunette and GM Barry Trotz reportedly met and quickly decided that their players hadn’t earned the right to hear the dulcet tones of “With Or Without You” echoing around the rounded walls of a 516-foot-wide ball.
Instead, they went right back home, and spent “Sunday Bloody Sunday” back home in Nashville, where the streets do have names.
At the time, Brunette explained to The Tennessean that “We’re having trouble getting our mind around what’s important, and that’s hockey. It’s not everything else that goes around hockey . . . Our mind has to be on the game; it can’t be on our vacations.”
Now, Brunette was primarily referring to the various vacations the Predators took during the All-Star Break, rather than insinuating that his players were too distracted by Bono to focus on Jamie Benn-o. But the message came through loud and clear that the players were losing out on the concert as a direct consequence of their perceived lack of effort on the ice – and that message was both received and responded to.
It’s easy to see this going the other way; the coach losing the room because he pissed everyone off with a petty power play. But in this case, the results speak for themselves.
Prior to Spheregate, the Predators were a respectful but lackluster 27-25-2, good for 19th place overall in the NHL and not good enough for a playoff position.
Since they lost their concert, however, the Predators have been a different sabre-toothed beast altogether.
From that St. Louis game onward, the Predators went 22-6-2 to end the season. That’s the second-best record in the NHL over that same span, trailing only the Carolina Hurricanes.
Ultimately, that run was only good enough to sneak the Preds in to one of the wildcard spots, but that’s still a remarkable accomplishment given the hole they had dug for themselves prior.
Which is why we’re hesitant to put too much stock into any of those previous Canucks victories back in the 2023 half of 2023/24. The Canucks beat the Predators on October 24, October 31, and then December 19. Even that last one is almost two months ahead of the U2 Incident (not the 1960 one, the other one).
It’s quite reasonable to say, really, that the Nashville team the Canucks beat thrice is not the Nashville team they’ll be playing in Round One. There’s been a transformation here. Exponential growth. And whether that growth is by a factor of uno, dos, tres, or even quatorze, is all that remains to be seen.
And it is not just the record, either.
Prior to Spheregate, the Predators scored 2.96 goals-per-game, again 19th in the league. Since, they’ve scored 3.79 goals-per-game, again second in the league.
Prior to Spheregate, the Predators allowed 3.28 goals-against-per-game, which was the ninth-worst count in the NHL. Since, they’ve allowed just 2.54 goals-against-per-game, which is the fourth-best count in the NHL.
For those not keeping score at home, that’s a full 1.57 goals-per-game worth of positive swing. That’s ridiculous.
The trend shows just as strongly in the underlying numbers, too. Nashville’s team Corsi jumped from 49.5% before the U2 debacle to 53.9% thereafter – a leap from 20th in the league to fourth.
It’s probably worth mentioning at this point that the Predators are only figuratively a different team, not literally. Trotz shopped modestly at deadline-time, bringing in Jason Zucker for a 6th and our ol’ pal Anthony Beauvillier for a 5th. The Preds also picked up Jaret Anderson-Dolan on waivers from the LA Kings.
In fact, the Predators arguably lost more at the deadline than they gained by shipping Yakov Trenin to the Colorado Avalanche.
Truly, their strategy appeared to largely be one of self-rental, choosing to hang onto pending UFAs like Alexandre Carrier, Tyson Barrie, and Dante Fabbro, who they then extended.
And lest you think that injuries could be a factor here, they haven’t really been. Cody Glass, Ryan McDonagh, and our actual ol’ pal Luke Schenn all missed time in October and November, with Schenn’s 18-game absence being the longest. Tommy Novak, Carrier, and Glass again missed time in December and January. And then…that’s pretty much it.
No injuries to any truly major players, and nothing longer than 18 games for Schenn.
The injuries the Preds have faced since Spheregate – seven games for Fabbro, three more for Carrier, three for Jeremy Lauzon, and five for Spencer Stastney – are pretty much in line with what they experienced prior.
Individual players, however, have stepped up in a big way. Filip Forsberg went from a 0.98 to a 1.46 PPG from pre- to post-Spheregate. Roman Josi went from 0.91 to 1.29. Perhaps most surprisingly of all, Gustav Nyquist went from a 0.76 PPG to 1.26 PPG with 34 points in 27 post-Spheregate games, damn near doubling his production.
It’s all rather incontrovertible. A bold and decisive action by the Nashville management and coaching staff has paid off to a nearly unprecedented degree, and has resulted in a Predators team that is essentially better at hockey in all facets across the board.
Better, to be sure, than the version of the team that the Canucks went 3-0 against several months ago.
And let’s not forget that, while to nowhere near the same degree, the Canucks have been trending somewhat in the opposite direction. Back when the Preds said No2 U2, Vancouver was at the top of the league in virtually every category, including points, scoring, and, yes, PDO.
Which is not to say that the Canucks aren’t still the better team, or that they don’t enter the series as the obvious overdog.
It’s just to say that the Canucks should not do any resting on the laurels of that 3-0 season series.
Those games were played against a Nashville team that still hadn’t found what it was looking for.

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