Nashville Predators: Line Matching Favored Oilers On Thursday

EDMONTON, AB - DECEMBER 14: Connor McDavid
EDMONTON, AB - DECEMBER 14: Connor McDavid /

Line matching is uniform around the league as coaches look to give their players an edge. The Nashville Predators were on the short end Thursday.

Line matching has been around forever and is used for many reasons. Sometimes it’s to match an offensive line against a defensive liability, sometimes it’s to match an airtight defensive pair against Sidney Crosby. It happens for many reasons, and the Nashville Predators use it more than any team in the NHL. The main reason that the Predators are so deadly at home is their matching, as P.K. Subban shuts down an opponent’s star player so that Roman Josi can cut through second and third liners like swiss cheese. Josi isn’t exactly getting easy starts, as Mattias Ekholm has bolstered his defensive game, but he’s still eating easier minutes than Subban.

The same goes for the Turris line. JoFA used to receive some favorable zone starts against less than impressive competition because Laviolette wanted to squeeze every ounce of offense out of them. The harder minutes then fell onto the Fisher line. Now it’s a different story, Johansen and co are playing against top competition at home so that Turris can capitalize on poor match-ups. Not many teams have the defense to match the Predators’ top six, which allows the Predators to dictate the pace of the game.

But it’s not the same on the road, where other teams get to pick and choose their matchups. Some lines, on offense and defense, got picked on and the numbers show it. So let’s dive in and see who was getting picked on. For an explanation of the stats I’ll use, reference this article.

The Turris line

Last night was a bit weird, as the Turris line only saw about 9 minutes at five on five, even though twelve minutes in total were spent on the power play or penalty kill. Those 9 minutes were not pretty, as the line put up a 36.84% Corsi and a 46.15% Fenwick. Last night was rough as the Nashville Predators didn’t start many shifts in the offensive zone, and so the Turris line wasn’t sheltered. They started in the offensive zone 33% of the time. What’s worse is that four of those six zone starts were against the McDavid line. McJesus, as Subban called him, was impressively neutralized though.

The Turris line owned an 80% Corsi and 100% Fenwick against the McDavid line and fared equally well against Oscar Klefbom and Matt Benning. Oddly enough, it was the second and third line that had their way with Turris. The Nugent-Hopkins line was kept to 50% Corsi, while the Draisaitl line owned a 75% Corsi. It should be mentioned that the Turris line gave up no high danger chances. The usual defensive liabilities were airtight against the second best player in the world.

The Johansen line

if you’ll remember, the JoFA line was kept apart in favor of Bonino-Johansen-Arvidsson. That line was below average with a Corsi of 46.43% and a Fenwick of 36.84%. This line got absolutely no protection from Laviolette as they started in the offensive zone 26% of the time. They saw the defensive zone 11 times last night alone, more than Johansen probably saw it all of last year. They did combine for one high danger chance but they gave up three on their own net.

The JoBA (it doesn’t work, I’m sorry) line saw McDaddy for 6 minutes and 45 seconds on Thursday. What’s wore is that McDavid started in the offensive zone 66% of the time. They were being trusted to handle the toughest match-up in the NHL in the worst situation possible. What’s most impressive is they kept him off the scoresheet. BoJA (that still sucks) actually started in the offensive zone less than 50% of the time against every player they saw. That is, except the fourth line. But that was only for about two minutes and one zone start.

Clearly, head coach Todd McLellan liked what he saw against the JAB (much better) line, because Draisaitl and McDavid saw them for about 10 minutes last night. Nevertheless, Juuse Saros stood tall and helped bail out JAB, although they weren’t hot garbage.

The Jarnkrok line

I’d call them the positive possession line, but that’s too on the nose. They owned a 54.85% Corsi and a 58.82% Fenwick with four high danger chances and three against. Four high danger chances in 11 minutes at five on five is fantastic. But a line with Jarnkrok and Forsberg shouldn’t be giving up three. What may explain that number is that they started in the offensive zone 28% of the time.

This line saw more favorable matchups than the rest of the team though, as they only met McDavid for 4 minutes. In those four minutes though, McDavid crushed them. He left them with a 27.27% Corsi and a 14.29% Fenwick. They gave up all three of their high danger chances to McDavid but did manage one of their own.

The Jarnkrok line then ran over the Draisaitl and fourth line. They owned a 66% Corsi and 85.71% Fenwick against the Draisaitl group. They completely erased the group as Jarnkrok kept them to zero high danger chances and one shot in about four minutes.


Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm saw about 9 minutes of McDavid last night, and it went poorly. The pairing was hemmed in their own zone, although they got no help from Laviolette as they started in the defensive zone twice against him. They ended a night with a 35% Corsi and an 18.18% Fenwick against McDavid. In the end, the defense made McDavid pay as they scored a goal on him, despite the fact McDavid put up all of his danger chances against them. Mattias Ekholm was brilliant all night, and he had to be. He did everything humanly possible to slow down McDavid, sometimes resorting to some less than legal tactics. But in the end, Ekholm and Josi kept McDavid off the scoresheet, which is an achievement in its own right.

Here’s where zone matching comes in though, McDavid only saw P.K. Subban for about four minutes last night. This was clearly a matchup that Todd McLellan wanted to avoid. Subban was the only player to manage a 50% Fenwick with McDavid in significant minutes. He was only kept to five zone starts against McDavid but did his best to keep him invisible. Subban only surrendered one shot and two scoring chances, with none being high danger. I have absolute faith that a pairing of Ekholm and Subban could do this over a full game, as well as a seven-game series. It’s been done before, actually by Oilers’ teammate Darnell Nurse back in the OHL.

The third pairing was a mess, no matter who it was against. The Oilers showed mercy by not continuously matching them up against McDavid, but Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins did their own damage. Yannick Weber and Anthony Bitetto owned a 40.63% Corsi and a 45% Fenwick in about 11 minutes. Not terrible numbers, but they were sheltered more than any line on the ice as they started in the offensive zone 70% of the time. The Nashville Predators were robbing Josi and Subban of decent starts to minimize how much defense the third pair would have to play.

In the end

I don’t think anyone can argue that the Nashville Predators deserved to win that game. The only thing to take solace in was the power play remaining hot, although they’re riding a high PDO wave, as well as Juuse Saros dominating. A similar performance will not result in a win against most other teams. Let’s hope it was the travel and the back to back that kept the Nashville Predators on their heels. A chance at redemption comes tomorrow against a red-hot Flames team.

Next: How On Earth Did Nashville Won That Game?