Nashville Predators: Shutting Down The 3M Line Was No Easy Task

CALGARY, AB - DECEMBER 16: Matthew Tkachuk
CALGARY, AB - DECEMBER 16: Matthew Tkachuk /

The Nashville Predators beat a very good Calgary Flames on Hockey Night In Canada. It was a match-up between two of the best top sixes in the NHL.

The Calgary Flames and the Nashville Predators have quite a bit in common actually. Both have an incredible scoring winger and a bonafide first line center. Both have relatively deep bottom sixes, although I’d probably give the advantage to the Predators. The Flames boast the third-best defense in the NHL behind the Predators and Hurricanes, but probably have a better third pair with Michael Stone. Even goaltending is somewhat similar. Mike Smith has had his ups and downs as the Flames search for a more consistent option, but he still owns a .918% save percentage.

The biggest similarity between the two teams, in my opinion, is their second lines. The Kyle Turris acquisition has pushed the Predators to new heights while the Flames’ second line has been incredible since drafting Matthew Tkachuk. The Flames second line of Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund, and Michael Frolik, affectionately known as the 3M line, is one of the best possession lines in the NHL. They consistently smother first line talent and take away most scoring chances. But the Nashville Predators did something special on Saturday night, they suppressed the suppressors.

All stats are at five on five, unless explicitly expressed otherwise. Use this article for a fun explanation of all stats.

How good is the 3M line?

The 3M line has continued their elite ways from last season. Through 34 games and 358 minutes, they have a 59.38% Corsi and a 59.45% Fenwick. Those stats are better than JoFA, who are a possession juggernaut compared to 99% of the league. What’s more incredible is that 3M isn’t receiving any kind of shelter. They start in the offensive zone 46.18% of the time and often see top competition.

The Flames never worry when the 3M line touches the ice. They have only allowed 146 scoring chances while accumulating 207 of their own. Even better is that they’ve created 64 high danger chances, but only given up 45. What’s even scarier is that they’re actually incredibly unlucky. They’re riding a 96.6% PDO wave with an on ice shooting percentage of 3.96%, down from the average 9.2%.

One could argue that Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan owe a bit of their success to 3M. The Flames use their line matching advantage at home to smother shallower opponents. Teams like Florida, for instance, who only have one scoring line often see their top talent get matched with 3M. That allows the Flames first line to trample over lesser talent. Of course, this works to a lesser extent when they match-up with a team like the Nashville Predators who have a few scoring lines. So who did 3M mostly see on Saturday?

Who did the 3M line face-off with?

The 3M line saw Nick Bonino, Ryan Johansen, and Viktor Arvidsson for about 4 minutes and 20 seconds. While P.K. Subban and Alexei Emelin were on the backend for just under 4 minutes. This was good decision by Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan who wanted to keep Subban as far away from Johnny Gaudreau as possible. Otherwise, the 3M line saw the Jarnkrok line and the Josi pairing for the remainder of their five on five icetime.

How did the Predators handle them?

The 3M line put up a 54.17% Corsi and a 47.62% Fenwick. Not great numbers by their standards, especially for Fenwick. The Nashville Predators accumulated four scoring chances, including two high danger chances. The 3M line found their groove offensively as they dominated with seven scoring chances and three high danger. They were actually used in a primarily offensive role as they started in the offensive zone 60% of the time. Although they didn’t put up any points, they were everywhere in the offensive zone and gaves the Nashville Predators’ defense fits. The one area where the Predators beat them was on the scoreboard, as the 3M gave up a goal.

For reference, we’re only looking at Mikael Backlund’s chart because he’s the center of the line and was on the ice for the entirety of the line’s time.

When looking at the charts, there are a few things that stand out to me. Both the Predators and the 3M line weren’t very good in front of the net. 3M gave up six high danger shot attempts, with five hitting the net, and one goal. A line as good as 3M with the help of Dougie Hamilton and Mark Giordano should be much better in front of their own net. The offense ran over one of the best defensive forward lines and hounded the goalie with four shots within five feet of the net. Otherwise, the eye test confirms what the chart is saying. The Predators were picking on the left side. That side is home to Frolik, Giordano, and Travis Hamonic. No disrespect to any of those guys, but they’re not as good as their partners. This chart tells a success story for the Nashville Predators and their offense.

The 3M line isn’t one dimensional though, they have quite the scoring touch. Especially Matthew Tkachuk who has points 20 so far this season. They produced quite a few shots of their own and made Pekka Rinne work for most of them. Even though their shot attempts litter the chart, very few come from within a high danger area. Only three shots came from the net front as well. The Predators then created a decent wall around the low slot, forcing most shots to come from the point. The only critique  I have is how many shots the Predators allowed from the center of the zone. The high slot especially was open and unsupervised. This was because the centers were busy supporting low, which is actually a good decision. While the high slot is still a dangerous area, it’s quite safer than the net front area.

If you can handle them, you can handle…

Almost everyone. The 3M line is one of the best in the NHL at controlling play and shutting down scoring. The only forward line that might be better is the Patrice Bergeron line in Boston. Nevertheless, the Nashville Predators used their speed and control of the corners to dominate the dominators. The game against Calgary wasn’t just another two points, it was a victory over an up-and-coming Flames team that is only getting better.

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