With two physical teams facing off in a playoff series, you would think there would be more hits. In Game 1, the Nashville Predators lost their edge.
Coming into this second-round series, talk centered around the physical play we would witness. The Colorado Avalanche proved to be a tough team in the opening round, playing physical during play and after the whistle. It was nothing like we thought we would see now. The Nashville Predators can be a very physical team, as are the Jets. But, Game 1 proved to be a bit more finesse.
Don’t get me wrong, the Predators did hit the Jets. Twenty-nine times to be exact. Five of those came from Austin Watson, who only played four minutes. Filip Forsberg levied six hits, four for Mike Fisher. What is a bit concerning are the defensive pairings. The six players combined for seven total hits. Ryan Ellis did not account for any.
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It is no secret the Nashville Predators are the most penalized team in the NHL, or that the Jets have one of the best power play units. Part of the plan in this series is to reduce penalties for the Predators. They did not get a call during Game 1. Maybe that is a bit too extreme.
The Jets attempted to start scrums after the whistle. One such pushing-fest lead to Viktor Arvidsson punching a Jets player in the face. Nothing was called on Arvidsson, thankfully. But, instead of responding to the physical play, the Predators turned the other cheek. Typically, I praise them for this. But not today.
There was no edge, no determination or aggressiveness in the actions of the Predators. Yes, they played well offensively. Statistics show the Predators dominated the game in terms of shots on goal, shot-shares, scoring chances, and high-danger chances. The scoreboard did not reflect such domination.
The first two goals from the Jets came around the net. The Predators did little to push their opponents out of the way. No hitting of their sticks to effect shots, no checking players to force shot adjustments.
Additionally, it was clear the Predators were trying to get to the net offensively. Connor Hellebuyck was allowing rebounds, but the Predators were never in a position to pounce. Shot after shot came from the point. There never enough traffic to effect the play of Hellebuyck’s vision. And he stopped every shot, except one.
One of the most used similes when talking about hockey players is “he’s like sandpaper.” Simply, the player is gritty and can agitate their opponents. Ryan Hartman is certainly a “sandpaper” player, as is Miikka Salomaki and Scott Hartnell. Of course, Hartman and Hartnell are both still facing time in the doghouse for drawing a suspension from the league. Still, the team needs a bit more sandpaper on the ice against the Jets.
If the Predators want to win tonight, they must be more physical. They must push their way around the net, gaining position in scoring areas and blinding the Jets’ goalie. Defensively, being more physical means keeping the Jets offense along the walls and tying up sticks around the net. It is okay to get a couple penalties. The Predators must play with an edge.