It's too bad this is the one matchup that we won't see.
What jumps out as the greatest contrast between the Nashville Predators and Anaheim Ducks is the distribution of talent on their rosters. The Ducks boast perhaps the league's top forward line in Ryan-Getzlaf-Perry, while the Preds exemplify the "scoring by committee" approach. While that much is obvious, how do these factors balance out on the whole?
Follow after the jump as we walk through the numbers to highlight each team's relative strengths and weaknesses, and get a sense of which team has the overall advantage...
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While reading, listen in as Preds Assistant GM Paul Fenton joined the Thom Abraham Show yesterday to look at this matchup. Also make sure to tune into SlapShot Radio on Wednesday between 6:00-7:00, as I'm joining Paul McCann to help preview this series.
As much as we like to focus on special teams, over 75% of typical NHL games are played 5-on-5, with about 2/3rds of the goals being scored. In that situation, the Predators seem to hold a pretty significant edge:
|Goals For / 60 Min.||2.5 (12th)||2.2 (23rd)|
|Shots For / 60 Min.||28.9 (22nd)||26.8 (27th)|
|Shoot %||8.6% (8th)||8.4% (13th)|
|GA/60 Min.||2.1 (4th)||2.5 (17th)|
|SA/60 Min.||30.5 (19th)||31.4 (24th)|
|Save %||.931 (3rd)||.920 (16th)|
Data from Behind the Net
Yes, that's right - the Predators actually score significantly more often in 5-on-5 than the Ducks.
It'll be interesting to watch how head coaches Barry Trotz and Randy Carlyle match lines and apportion ice time; take a look at the table below, which shows how the load has been shared so far among the forwards:
|5-on-5 ice time by line (approximate)|
|Legwand line||14.5||17||Getzlaf line|
|Fisher line||14||14||Koivu line|
|Smithson line||12||9.5||Marchant line|
|Geoffrion line||8||8||4th line|
The big question is how much more the Ducks can rely upon their top line, and to what extent any additional ice time might wear them down over the course of a given game. The Predators are more used to spreading things out, and while I wouldn't be surprised to see the 4th line's ice time dwindle depending on the situation, those minutes can be distributed across the top 3 with relatively less impact than for Anaheim.
Anaheim Power Play vs. Nashville Penalty Kill
|GA/60 Min.||4.8 (7th)||8.2 (4th)||GF/60 Min.|
|SA/60 Min.||47.5 (7th)||59.4 (2nd)||SF/60 Min.|
|Save %||.898 (8th)||13.7% (4th)||Shoot %|
|# of PK's / Game||3.3 (6th)||3.5 (20th)||PP's/Game|
Herein lies the great hope for Anaheim, their power play is scary-good (as we'd expect with a top-heavy lineup talent-wise). The Predators will need to maintain discipline and stay out of the penalty box, to avoid giving the Ducks' big guns their best opportunity to score. Fortunately for Nashville, they hit the trifecta when it comes to penalty killing - they don't have to do it as often as most teams, they prevent shots well, and get great goaltending.
Nashville Power Play vs. Anaheim Penalty Kill
|GF/60 Min.||5.0 (26th)||6.8 (22nd)||GA/60 Min.|
|SF/60 Min.||46.6 (24th)||56.3 (28th)||SA/60 Min.|
|Shoot %||10.8% (24th)||.879 (17th)||Save %|
|PP's/Game||3.2 (24th)||3.7 (21st)||# of PK's / Game|
This isn't exactly a clash of strengths here; the Preds don't draw many penalties, and their continuing struggles with the man advantage are legendary around these parts. That said, how often the Preds get to work the power play could play a huge role in the outcome of this series. As Mike Chen wrote the other day, all too often at playoff time, referees swallow their whistles and avoid making too many calls. Doing so, however, simply gives an advantage to the more physically aggressive team, and that would favor the Ducks heavily.
The biggest difference maker, as we'd expect, is the goaltending, where Pekka Rinne has been flat-out dominant. The Ducks would have a worthy answer with Jonas Hiller, but vertigo has him on the shelf for the time being. That leaves Dan Ellis and Ray Emery carrying the load. Ellis has been fairly disappointing this season, while Emery has been a huge surprise - many assumed his playing days were over due to a degenerative hip condition, but he's been excellent in 10 games so far for the Ducks. The former Pred Ellis is expected to start the series, but I wouldn't be surprised to see changes made if Anaheim gives up a few goals quickly.
|2010 - Pekka Rinne||64||3789||33||22||9||134||2.12||1905||1771||.930||6|
|2010 - Dan Ellis||44||2408||21||10||7||111||2.77||1089||978||.898||2|
|2010 - Ray Emery||10||527||7||2||0||20||2.28||272||252||.926||0|
Bringing It All Together
It'll be a white-knuckle ride whenever the top five-man unit for Anaheim takes the ice, particularly on the power play, but after that group the danger level drops off significantly, and Barry Trotz should be confident in rolling his top 3 lines on the road despite not having the last change. With Steve Sullivan returning to form (likely on the 4th line to start), there's opportunity to add some further pop to the lineup as well.
While anything can happen in a 7-game series, you have to give nod in goal to the Predators; the duty of protecting that edge will belong to the Nashville defense, which will be challenged by aggressive Anaheim forwards who will run the crease with abandon if allowed to.
On balance, however, I like the Predators' disciplined play to keep the game played mostly at even strength, allowing them to get everyone involved and seize the advantage.
So I'm going with...
Preds in 6