Nashville Predators Duel Ducks In First Round

Nov 1, 2015; Anaheim, CA, USA; Anaheim Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen (31) defends the net next to Nashville Predators center Colin Wilson (33) during the second period at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 1, 2015; Anaheim, CA, USA; Anaheim Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen (31) defends the net next to Nashville Predators center Colin Wilson (33) during the second period at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports /

The Nashville Predators Path To The Stanley Cup Leads Through California 

At the beginning of the 2015/2016 season, no team got off to worse a start than Anaheim.  The once mighty Ducks struggled to score straight out of the gate and only managed 1 goal in their first 4 games of the season and an abysmal 1-7-2 record for the entire month of October.  Despite their early struggles, the Ducks managed to turn around their fortunes in spectacular fashion as they battled back from the bottom of the standings to win their fourth consecutive division title on the last day of the regular season and find themselves in a playoff matchup with a Nashville Predators team that is hungry for post-season success.

In a similar fashion, the Predators had their own share of hardship after underachieving for a lengthy part of the season that caused the team to bounce around the standings with uncertainty. That was until the blockbuster trade that sent Seth Jones to Columbus, in exchange for Ryan Johansen, changed their fortunes for the better as they rode a wave of success from a late post-season push that helped them win the first wild card spot in the conference and a trip through California to face the gauntlet of NHL teams there.

Fowl Play: Analyzing the Ducks

All bad jokes aside let’s take a look at what the Predators are up against in this 1st round matchup.

  • Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan Kesler – Top 6 fixtures that are going to make or break the Ducks post-season.
  • Special Teams – Anaheim leads the league in powerplay and penalty kill efficiency.
  • Frederik Anderson and John Gibson – Co-winners of the Jennings Trophy for fewest goals against in the league.

At first, the Ducks look like a rather intimidating matchup but you’ll quickly see that there are more than a few weaknesses that the Predators can exploit if they’re going to make it past the first round this year.

Ducks Depth Hurt By Injuries

Between Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler, the Ducks have a formidable set of centermen to anchor their top two lines with and Corey Perry annually scores 30 or more goals a season and loves to play a gritty game that causes the opposition to take bad penalties.  Naturally these three also happen to be the top scorers for Anaheim this year.

  1. Ryan Getzlaf 13 G, 50 A – 63 P
  2. Corey Perry 34 G, 28 A – 62 P
  3. Ryan Kesler 21 G, 32 A – 53 P
  4. Rickard Rakell 20 G, 23A – 43 P
  5. Jamie McGinn 22 G, 17 A – 39 P
  6. Jakob Silfverberg 20 G, 19 A – 39 P

While Perry, Getzlaf, and Kesler all had respectable seasons the Ducks depth and production drops off in a hurry right after them with a supporting cast of players that only had one member eclipse the 40 point mark.  Think it’s because of injuries? Guess again. Only Rikard Rakell played less than 82 games.

  • Jamie McGinn – 84 GP
  • Jakob Silfverberg – 82 GP
  • Rickard Rakell – 72 GP

Jamie McGinn played in a whopping 84 games thanks to a more strenuous schedule with the Buffalo Sabres prior to being traded to Anaheim as the Ducks tried to address some of their depth issues.

In general, the Ducks had a fairly healthy team until late in the season and some of their depth players are still questionable to start the playoffs which is a huge opportunity for the Predators to ruin Anaheim’s home ice advantage by stealing a win or two on the road before heading home to Nashville.

Wait I Thought The Ducks Had The Best Powerplay In The League?

The Ducks did have the best powerplay in the regular season. Hopefully, by now you’ve noticed that the numbers don’t exactly match up with a team that was the league’s best with the man advantage.

Anaheim Special Teams

  • Powerplay 22.86%
  • Penalty Kill 87.24%

Nashville Special Teams

  • Powerplay 19.69%
  • Penalty Kill 81.22%

Clearly Anaheim has a distinct special teams advantage and rightfully so with numbers like that. However, there is one more perspective to look at when comparing these two teams.

Regular Season Scoring 

  • Nashville Predators – 228 Goals For – 12th Best In The League
  • Anaheim Ducks – 218 Goals For – 18th Best In The League

In essence, the Ducks thrived on the power play opportunities they had but still had difficulties scoring throughout the season compared to Nashville.  While it might only be a 10 goal difference the Predators still managed to produce without having to rely on special teams nearly as much as Anaheim did.  Since we’re going to be facing a team this stingy discipline is going to be crucial to the success of the Predators.

Players like Corey Perry thrive on irritating their opponent and making them take bad penalties to change the momentum of a game and with players like Ryan Kesler and Kevin Bieksa sprinkled throughout their lineup the Ducks have plenty of skaters that will try and get under your skin and take your focus off the game.  Even strength play is a distinct advantage that the Predators have over the Ducks but it won’t be worth much if Nashville has to spend all night killing penalties instead of piling goals up in the back of the Anaheim net.

In Rinne We Trust

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The Ducks have the mixed blessing of having no clear cut starter in this series since Anaheim has been running a reliable tandem on and off of Frederick Andersen and John Gibson ever since the 2014 NHL season. Over that time, neither goalie has managed to certify himself as the #1 netminder although ultimately Anderson started all 16 games for Anaheim in the 2015 playoffs as the Ducks cruised into the conference finals.  Andersen missed four starts over the last few weeks of the season due to a concussion before returning to the Ducks regular season finale by shutting out the league-leading Washington Capitals and seeming no worse for the wear so you can fully expect him to be working the crease in favor of John Gibson.

In many respects, the Nashville Predators are also running a tandem in net as well since Pekka Rinne has been a big question mark for the team this year and our fortunes could rely heavily upon which version of Pekka shows up from this season.  Rinne’s first half of the season was arguably one of the worst of his career, perhaps the worst he’s ever played without being injured and didn’t seem to regain his form until after the All-Star Game in Nashville and the short break in the season that comes with it.

Rinne did get an extra few games of rest after the Predators locked up the first wild card spot so the big Finn should be well rested and ready to go for game one this Thursday. A little more heartening is that Rinne has a career record of 12-5-4 against the Ducks and perhaps more notably he was in net for Nashville’s first playoff series win, which happened to be against the Ducks as well, back in 2011. If the Predators are going to make it past the first round of the playoffs and beyond Pekka is going to have to carry the team to a win in more than a few games due to the Ducks unrelenting penalty kill. Goals are not going to come easy in this series for either team but Rinne is far more experienced than either Gibson or Andersen and will need to outlast them long enough for the Predators to cash in on the few mistakes that the Ducks will make.

My Prediction – Predators In 6

The Predators are going into this series with more advantages than most people might realize. We have better health, depth, offense, even strength play, and are coming into Anaheim after five full days of rest.  The Predators have a window of opportunity to go up by a game or two on the road before key depth players return from injury to the Ducks roster and to bring that momentum with them back to Nashville for games 3 and 4.

That being said this series won’t be pretty. Anaheim was the best defensive team in the league this season and will try everything they can to get the Predators to take bad penalties and then score on the powerplay and then protect the lead from there. It’s not a fancy system but it’s worked well for Anaheim this year and Nashville can expect more of the same.

Look for James Neal to be a critical factor in this matchup.  Few players were as good as or better than James Neal at scoring during 5 on 5 play this season and will be a key piece in helping the Preds work around the Ducks formidable penalty kill and moving onto the 2nd round of the playoffs.

PredLines Staff Predictions:        Doug         Zach         Chance         Lincoln       Charles

Next: Expansion Draft Could Hurt Preds

Without looking ahead, there are expected to be plenty of more late nights on the West Coast after this series.