Predators vs. Red Wings Preview; aka "Tearing Down the Wall"

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March 30, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Red Wings left wing Tomas Holmstrom (96) and Nashville Predators defenseman Hal Gill (75) fight for position in front of Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne (35) in the second period at Joe Louis Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

If the history of the Predators was to be made into a movie, and a decent one it would be, this series would take place right around the 90 minute mark of a two hour movie. After everything they’ve been through, the Preds finally have their house in order and their magazine fully loaded of talent. Plus, who would be more fitting of a draw in the first round than the Red Wings? The team that’s always been the measuring stick now stands to be the opponent in the first round. The prodigal son, Alexander Radulov, has returned to Nashville. The brothers Kostitsyn have been reunited. An old war horse, Hal Gill arrives for reinforcements. Paul Gaustad also joined to do what he does best, dirty work. Given the cast assembled, it truly does resemble that of a movie.

Every movie needs a villain, and there’s no more perfect villain than those guys from Detroit. (Even Justified is running with this theme)

Detroit and Nashville play each other six times a year, so there won’t be any secrets. Both teams have a distinct style of play that contrasts with the other. Nashville wants both teams to chase the puck all over the rink, Detroit tries to hold on to the puck as long as possible. One team is going into this series healthy, with no injuries listed. Nashville’s lone injury concerns reside with Hal Gill, who seems to be ailing some after blocking Sheldon Souray’s shot, and Anders Lindback. Detroit won’t be missing any key cogs, but will be counting on Niklas Lidstrom to be mobile and agile, and the health of Todd Bertuzzi, Darren Helm, and Dan Cleary are in question. Jimmy Howard is getting back to where he was after his multiple injuries during the year.

So who has the advantage where? This series could be a classic, so the experts say. But will it truly play out like that? Not necessarily.

Who has the advantage:
Even Strength

Detroit leads the league in 5 on 5 goals per game, punching in nearly 2 goals a game. They also allowed about 1.5 a game, both of which are better numbers than Nashville. While most of those numbers are from before the trade deadline, this is Detroit’s biggest chance to impact the scoresheet. Nashville has now more tools to use, and an absolute ace in the face-off circle. Plus, the addition of Gill allows for Kevin Klein to be paired with the veteran Francis Boullion which makes both pairs more effective, and will greatly help cut down the minutes for Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. Klein has simplified his game, and has been watching Rinne’s back and staying at home.

The Wings will employ their puck possession game, which aims to tire out any group on the ice. It’s not fun watching this type of game as a fan of an opposing team, which is a byproduct of teams not forechecking and closing down the passing lanes. The Preds will be rolling four lines, and do have the two-way forwards to cause problems. With the exception of Pavel Datsyuk, this Red Wings team doesn’t have the punch that past teams have brought down the pike. The Predators have added size to their lineup, but still maintain a slight speed advantage over the Wings. The depth of Nashville will cause problems. The leading scorer, Patric Hornqvist, is now playing on the third line with Nick Spaling and Gabriel Bourque. It’s likely either Colin Wilson or Craig Smith will be sitting during these games unless injuries take their toll.

Verdict: Push. Both teams have their system to employ. Much will be determined by the health of Niklas Lidstrom and Darren Helm. If both aren’t as effective to their normal level, this will firmly tip the balance in Nashville’s favor.

On a Red Wings Power Play

The Wings have a lackluster power play, cashing in only 16% overall 13% and change on the road, that speaks to a lack of depth and productivity without Pavel Datsyuk around. However, they did log 484 minutes of power play time, good for third in the league. They were also third in the league in allowing short handed goals. Nashville’s PK got better as the year went on, especially after the deadline acquisitions were plugged in. Gill and Gaustad helped turned the unit around into a top 10 group in the league.

Tomas Holmstrom is no longer on the first power play unit, but still effective in a lesser degree. If Pekka Rinne is able to see the puck, he stops it. (This is not breaking news) Unless Detroit gets traffic galore in front of the big fella, this area won’t be favoring Detroit.

Verdict: Nashville. Gaustad has won over 60% of the draws since arriving, and unless the Red Wings turn into the Oilers… this will be in Nashville’s pocket unless the Preds can’t stay out of the box. Nashville stays out of the box better than any team in the league.

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