Well, EA’s NHL 17 did predict the Nashville Predators to reach the final, but actually watching them push through Chicago and St Louis has been quite the adventure. Having handedly disposed of the Chicago Blackhawks in four games, it’s interesting to point out that three defensemen were among Nashville’s top 5 point producers. Interestingly enough, the Nashville Predators seem to be resembling the Ducks of 06-07, where veterans Niedermayer Beauchemin and Pronger patrolled the blue line and sophomores Getzlaf and Perry we’re breaking out at the right time. With Josi, Ellis and Subban leading the charge from the backend, forwards Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson had provided the Nashville Predators with tremendous possession numbers and, consequently, offense going into the playoffs. However, as we all know, the NHL playoffs are all about which team catches fire at the right time, and it is easy to notice that the Predators are literally exuding nuclear heat right now. Let’s take a closer look at what has made Nashville so effective so far these playoffs.
The Best Offense is a Good Defense
Needless to say, Nashville boasts one of the most complete Defensive cores in the NHL. Experts are such awe of Subban, Ekholm, Josi and Ellis, that they all beat writers have the four rearguards as automatic locks to be protect during this June’s NHL Expansion Draft. After four games against Chicago and 6 against St Louis, the Predators counts 28 goals (an average of 2.8 Goals per Game) and have conceded 14 goals in as many games (1.4 Goals per Game). Of the 28 goals score four belong to Ellis and Josi respectively, and one to P.K. Subban, which would indicate that 30% of Nashville’s goals are coming from the backend. Roman Josi has been paired with Ryan Ellis as the offensive, puck moving duo, while P.K. Subban has been paired with Mattias Ekholm in a shutdown role. Due to Subban’s new role, his minutes have steadily increased, as he currently has an average of 25.24 mins per game, but played well over that total in games four, five and six against St Louis. Roman Josi is also establishing himself as a playoff hero, as his incredible play is giving Erik Karlsson a run for his money for MVP of the Playoffs.
Even if you don’t factor in the imposing first line of Forsberg, Johansen and Arvidsson, the forward depth on this squad would be the envy of many lottery teams. Their second line is composed of former 2008 7th overall pick Colin Wilson, late riser Calle Jarnkrok and the ever dangerous James Neal. They are followed by Mike Fisher as the ultimate third line center and young wild-card Colton Sissons centering the fourth line. Any team looking to shut down the Johansen line will certainly have to keep their eyes on line two, and watch out for surprises from line four, as Sissons has surprised for two goals and four apples these playoffs. Let’s not forget that youngster Kevin Fiala has been taken out of the playoffs, while the young Pontus Aberg and veteran P.A. Parenteau are still waiting in the stands
Pekka Rinne began these playoffs with two shutouts, against the offensive powerhouse Chicago Blackhawks. Jean Gabriel Pageau scored as many goals against Henrik Lundquist in two periods of Game 2 against the New York Rangers as the Blackhawks did in four games against Rinne. Let that sink in for a second. You good? Perfect! Because both accomplishments are absolutely insane. Rinne boasts a league leading .951% save percentage, a 1.37 Goals Against Average and three assists to boot. The only goalie who ever came close to replicating these stats was Jake Allen, who still managed to finish the playoffs with a respectable .935% save percentage. At this point, neither Cam Talbot of the Oilers or John Gibson of the Ducks can claim they are even near that level of play and this in turn gives Nashville an overwhelming advantage.
What Does the Future Hold for Smashville?
Nashville has played the fewest games out of any remaining playoff team headed into the conference finals by default. Having only played 10 games, the Predators have been well rested and focused these playoffs. This trend continues into the Western Conference Finals as Edmonton is playing it’s thirteenth game, while Anaheim is playing their 11th. However, everyone knows the toll that games 5 through 7 take on players, especially in a series as inconceivably open as that of the Oilers and Ducks. My prediction is that Nashville will meet Edmonton in the Conference Finals and that this series will determine the Stanley Cup Champion. The East looks to be taking care of itself with star players Crosby and Karlsson playing through significant injuries and goaltenders Lundquist and Holtby having lost their early playoff mojo. Do you think that Nashville has a realistic chance at the Finals? Is the Western Conference champion ultimately going to win the Stanley Cup? We shall see, and we’ll be glued to our seats in anticipation.