By Amanda DiPaolo
The Predators drawing the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Quarter-finals pits a defensive club against one with an explosive offense.
When looking at goaltending, defense, as well as offense there is no question where the Predators come out on top and where the Ducks have an advantage.
Pekka Rinne has played 10 games against the Ducks and boasts a 6-2-2 record. Rinne’s goals against average is 2.15 and has a .930 save percentage against Anaheim.
The Ducks will start the series with Dan Ellis in goal. Ray Emery is out with a lower body injury. Jonas Hiller has played backup as of late, but has yet to start a game since playing, and getting chase from the net, against Nashville allowing three quick goals in the middle of March.
Ellis, the former Nashville Predator, has only played two times against his former club, once as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightening and the other in relief of Hiller at Bridgestone Arena on March 24th. During those two games, Ellis has a goals against average of 3.43 and a .867 save percentage.
Both goalies have something to prove. For Ellis, he wants to show his former team they made the wrong choice when choosing netminders. Last season, both Ellis and Rinne were set to be unrestricted free agents, but Rinne signed a two-year contract extension during the Olympic break leaving Ellis as the odd man out.
Rinne will also try to prove something– that he is an elite goaltender in the NHL. Though hardly his fault, after last year’s collapse to the Chicago Blackhawks, Rinne will be looking to take his team to the next level. It is no secret that the success of the Predators post-season hopes rests on a Pekka Rinne who simply shines game in and game out.
While Ellis was named the NHL’s third star of the week to end out the regular season, earning back-to-back wins against the Kings, and has gone 8-3-1 in 13 games with Anaheim after being acquired from Tampa Bay close to the trade deadline. But it isn’t as though Rinne has been mediocre as of late. Finishing the season second in save percentage with .930 and third for goals against with 2.12, Rinne is likely to be a Vezina Trophy finalist, but will that be enough for the ultra-competitive Rinne? Not likely.
Neither goalie has post-season success at the NHL level and both have suffered defeat. While Ellis has the advantage of knowing the ins and outs of Barry Trotz hockey, still, it is Rinne who’s considered to be a world-class goalie and must be considered to have an edge in the series.
Goaltending Edge: Predators
On defense, there are no equivalents to Shea Weber and Ryan Suter on the Ducks squad. Named the best defensive pairing by Kevin Allen in USA Today, Weber and Suter will be playing a lot of minutes shutting down Anaheim’s offense.
The Predators captain has 16 goals and 32 assists. Suter has 4 goals and 35 assists. While Weber has a slap shot that goalies fear, he also has no problem throwing his weight around, ranking sixth among defensemen in hits. Suter, on the other hand, is the stay at home defenseman with puck moving abilities that allows for Weber to get creative and chip in offensively. Both Suter and Weber averaged just over 25 minutes a game.
The Ducks do not have the equivalent to a Weber or Suter, but they do have a star of their own on the back end, Lubomir Visnovsky. Visnovsky had a career season with has 18 goals and 50 assists for 68 points on the season. Not only is Visnovsky a star on defense for the Ducks this season, but he has dominated against the Predators with 6 goals and 19 assists for 25 points in 35 career games against Nashville.
There is even talk that Visnovsky, like Weber, could be a Norris Trophy candidate, though he sees very little short-handed ice time which takes away from his game as an all-around defenseman.
Visnovsky’s partner is Toni Lydman. He finished second in the League with a plus 32 and picked up 25 points. Lydman also ended the season ranked sixth in blocked shots.
After the Ducks top pairing, Cam Fowler and Francois Beauchemin add some pizzazz and stability to the blue line, respectively. Beauchemin is also in the top 10 for blocking shots, ranked fifth.
Rookie Cam Fowler has been a steady part of the Ducks defense and is set to play in his first ever playoff series. Having never experienced the pressure of the post season at the NHL level, there could be some concern about rookie mistakes that a seasoned veteran would not have to worry about, especially since Fowler was a -25 on the season, so he has been on the ice for a considerable amount of even strength goals against his team.
The Ducks boast a few other blueliners of note. Andreas Lilja played 20 games for Detroit last season before suffering a concussion after getting into a fight with Shea Weber. Luca Sbisa and Sheldon Brookbank and Andy Sutton round out the Ducks defense corps.
Like the Ducks with Fowler, Nashville is also sporting some fresh blood on the blue line. Jon Blum has only played for the Predators in 23 regular season games but does not look out of place. While Blum is prone to make some playoff rookie mistakes, this is not his first year of professional hockey. Blum has played two seasons in Milwaukee for the Admirals.
The Predators defense is rounded out by Kevin Klein, Cody Franson and Shane O’Brien. Each bring something unique to the table that adds to the depth of the Nashville back end.
Klein is 10th in the NHL for blocked shots. Franson has an offensive upswing that isn’t found on most NHL third-pairings. And O’Brien has experience that no other Predators defenseman has, winning a playoff series.
Defensive Edge: Predators
Where the Ducks might lack at the position of goal and on the blue line they make up for at foward. In fact, there is no contest as to what team has the edge in offense. Just take a look at Anaheim’s top six forwards in contrast to those of the Predators.
Quite possibly the best line in the NHL, the Anaheim Ducks have Ryan Getzlaf centering Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan. The second line consists of Saku Koivu, Teemu Selanne and Jason Blake.
Nashville’s top six forwards consist of Mike Fisher centering Sergei Kostitsyn and Patric Hornqvist followed by David Legwand centering Martin Erat and Joel Ward.
Perry had 50 goals during the regular season. Nashville’s Martin Erat and Sergei Kostitsyn tied for the team lead in points, with 50. That’s 50 points total. Kostitsyn lead the team in scoring with 23 goals, less than half of Perry’s League leading 50.
The Ducks have three 30-goal scorers, Corey, Ryan and Selanne.
Nashville had 2 20-goal scorers in Kostitsyn and Hornqvist.
While the Ducks have two top lines that can light up the lamp in any arena around the NHL, the Predators have [the potential for] consistent contributions from throughout the lineup. With five players between 16-19 goals, Nashville might be able to frustrate the Ducks if they make mistakes. Fisher, Legwand, Erat, Weber and Colin Wilson were all on the cusp of the twenty-goal threshold but simply ran out of games. And with the return of Steve Sullivan to the lineup after missing considerable portions of the season, the Predators, a team that has trouble scoring, have an opportunity to get contributions from throughout the lineup, having no one star to rely on game in and game out.
The only chance the Predators have of containing the Ducks offense is to stay out of the penalty box. Seven of the last 16 games for Anaheim featured the Ducks scoring more than one power play marker. Teemu Selanne alone had 16 power-play goals. Corey Perry added another 14 power-play markers.
Against Nashville, the Ducks scored 11 goals during the regular season. Three goals were on the man advantage, or 27% of Anaheim’s goals. Incidentally, Saku Koivu scored four of the 11 goals, not members of the Getzlaf-Perry-Ryan combo.
The Predators have the worst power play (15.2%) among teams in the playoffs. Last season Nashville did not score a power play goal until game six when they were eliminated from the post season. If they expect to beat the Ducks, not only will they need to shut down their explosive offense on the man advantage, but will also have to take care of their own opportunities on the power play.
Offensive edge: Ducks
Game one of the best of seven quarter finals begins Wednesday night at Honda Center. The pucks drops at 9:30 CT.
Photo credits: AP
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