Nashville Predators road to the Cup stays in California, doesn’t get any easier against the San Jose Sharks.
Alas, allow me a petty moment to cyber-pat myself on the back for accurately predicting the Preddies taking the series in seven. My crystal ball must be working at least a little magic- so if you’re looking for in-depth evaluations of possession metrics and Corsi ratings to find out who will come out on top of the Nashville Predator’s second-round tilt against the San Jose Sharks- you’re in the wrong place. It’s all magical conjuring and old-fashioned juju over here.
But that’s not to say statistics aren’t one of the main ingredients being tossed into the cauldron. The San Jose Sharks hold a distinct statistical advantage over the Predators on the season, ranking 4th in Goals Per Game and 10th in Goals Against Per Game (Nashville ranking 13th and 14th in these categories, respectively)- and though the Preds performed admirably against the league’s number one power play in Anaheim, the pressure won’t let up with the Sharks owning the 3rd best power play unit in the league.
I’ve already written about five reasons I believe this Nashville team can advance beyond this round, and they deserve repeating here. But there is one additional nugget to toss into this pot- the intriguing note that the Nashville Predators are currently 4-0 this postseason with Craig Smith active.
Three moving parts which determine this series:
Predators Power Play: To find success in the series Nashville must pry open the Shark’s penalty kill to bring their power play to life. With an abysmal 1-for-26 man advantage in the first round, the Preds iced the worst PP% of all sixteen playoff teams.
The Nashville Predators now have the opportunity to work away from the Duck’s number one penalty kill, operating instead against the 18th ranked penalty kill of San Jose. The ice should open up a bit, and Nashville must take advantage- the current power play production cannot sustain success at this level the playoffs.
The Dot: Another horrific statistic the Predators were able to get away with- faceoff win percentage. Nashville’s 45.7% was good for only 15th out of 16 playoff teams- a mark which must improve with zone possession being pivotal against such a threatening offense. Again, here, however, the Predators have sufficient means to improve upon their first-round performance, as San Jose marked a first round 45.5 FOW%- ranking 16th of 16 playoff teams, and were the only club who performed worse on the draw than Nashville.
Smothering Shark Shooters: Critical to success is the suppression of San Jose’s stars- most notably, Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski. Pavelski’s line nearly single-handedly toppled the Kings as he notched 5 goals and an assist in 5 games, continuing a stellar season which ended with him netting 38 pucks, good for 5th in the league. And though Logan Couture’s 6 first round points sets him alongside Joe Thornton as skaters needing to be marked men, it is the offensively brilliant defender Brent Burns who leads San Jose with 8 postseason points (2 goals, 6 assists).
While Nashville did a brilliant job stamping out Anaheim’s Corey Perry, holding the star player to 0 goals in 7 games, they now face three skaters who averaged over a point-per-game in the first round- none of whom are Joe Thornton, whose 82 points led the team in scoring over the regular season. To illustrate a comparison, the Predators top scorers have been Colin Wilson and Shea Weber– each with 5 points (2 goals, 3 assists each) in 7 games.
My prediction? The same goes in the second round for Pekka Rinne as it did in the first. He must be great for Nashville to advance. Some nights he won’t be great and the offensive talent of the Sharks take their bite. Other nights Pekka looks like Game 7 Pekka and keeps San Jose at bay.
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Nashville’s own star players (Ryan Johansen, James Neal, Filip Forsberg) find their fangs have been sharpened from playing against the league’s best defense for seven straight games. The offense opens up and the power play improves. The first six games are again split.
Game 7: Someone within proximity to Brent Burns is disastrously reckless with their pregame bubblegum, causing Burns to lose his supreme scoring ability after being forced to trim his beard, from which he derives his power. Viktor Arvidsson (who had been mistaken for Paul Gaustad in my crystal ball as the unlikely game-deciding goal scorer in Game 7, Round One- I should’ve recognized the size difference) weathers a 14-game beatdown to deliver the series-deciding goal mid-third period.
Prediction: Nashville Predators Advance in Seven Games.
The Predators reach the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history, and are an incredibly exhausted team while doing so. The team they face there will be decidedly more well rested.