The last time the Nashville Predators invaded the HP Pavilion, they broke the seven-game unbeaten streak to start the season for the San Jose Sharks. They look to complete a three-game season sweep on Saturday, March 2, having won both previous games after regulation.
Nashville's momentum should mean more than which rink they are playing on: San Jose has gone 2-3-1 since the last meeting and 2-6-4 for the month compared to 3-4-1 and 7-5-2, respectively for Saturday's foe.
Technically, the Predators have slipped ahead of the Sharks by one point in the Western Conference standings. But in any league but the NHL, the standings would show the home team a half-game ahead of their guests who have played two more games.
Yet the Predators may be more rested, having last played Wednesday. If the Sharks could not handle a team that had played the night before in another city, how will they handle a rested one?
The answer lies in the numbers.
Neither team has had any luck scoring in this series—one goal a piece in regulation between the two games—or this season. The Sharks are 26th in the NHL at 2.21 goals per game after scoring just 15 in 12 games in February. That included both games against the Predators, who have the worst offense in the NHL at 2.05 goals per game.
Not surprisingly, both teams are adept defensively. San Jose ranks fifth in the NHL by giving up just 2.10 goals per game, but Nashville is just two spots behind them at 2.29.
This makes it appear a lock to be a low-scoring game. An average score that accounts for both teams on both ends of the ice would be 2.25 for San Jose to 2.07 for their foes.
Of course, rarely does a team have an average game. Averages presuppose that everyone is level at game time.
Still, trends are no more reliable. The truth is that a team that is hot can be cold and a cold team hot on the same night.
There is a good chance that by 20 games—what would be the quarter pole in an 82-game season—things have evened out for most teams. In San Jose's case, the ebbs and flows (or flow and ebb) were quite apparent in their record. Their success followed their scoring, as they had 23 goals in their first five games and 19 outside of the shootout in the following 14.
The real Sharks are not as good as they started the season nor as bad as they have been recently. But the scoring is low overall and especially outside of the power play, showing that this is a team that has scoring deficiencies even if they are not as severe as they have been of late.
The Predators have long been an offensively-challenged team, but they have rarely been the worst in the NHL. Thus they have as much hope for improvement as their hosts.
The more variables that get dismissed from an analysis because they cannot be measured or because there is an approximately equivalent counter-variable, the more it comes down to the numbers. A look into the components of the game that are the vehicles to each team's result helps create a clearer picture of what to expect.