Nashville Predators vs. Detroit Red Wings series preview: The Little Engine That Can Now Run You Over

NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 15: Pekka Rinne #35 and Kevin Klein #8 of the Nashville Predators watch Johan Franzen #93 of the Detroit Red Wings pass the puck at the Bridgestone Arena on December 15, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

The Nashville Predators have always had to look up to the Detroit Red Wings. Back when the Preds joined the NHL, the Wings were coming off two consecutive Stanley Cup championships, and have added two more since then. Every year, they've finished ahead of the Predators in the standings, and knocked them out of the playoffs in 2004 and 2008. The Red Wings have, for 20 years now, gone into every season with championship aspirations, while the Preds have slowly lifted themselves up by their bootstraps, playing the "Little Engine That Could" role to defy convention and achieve results above and beyond their relatively meager resources.

This year, however, that old characterization of Nashville can be thrown out the window. Just making it to the playoffs and sharing the spotlight with Detroit isn't good enough for this Predators team. The front office loaded up for big game at the Trade Deadline, and the return of Alexander Radulov has added a jolt of excitement both on the ice, and in the stands at Bridgestone Arena.

Follow after the jump as we break down what should be a very different Predators/Red Wings series than we've seen previously...

Even Strength Play - Advantage Detroit

DET Offense vs. NSH Defense NSH Offense vs. DET Defense
5-on-5
GF/60 SF/60 Shoot % GA/60 SA/60 Save %
DET Offense 2.8 (3rd) 31.8 (4th) 9.0 (5th) 2.0 (3rd) 26.3 (2nd) 923 (8th) DET Defense
NSH Defense 2.3 (9th) 30.5 (25th) 924 (7th) 2.5 (9th) 27.4 (24th) 9.1 (3rd) NSH Offense
GA/60 SA/60 Save % GF/60 SF/60 Shoot %

This aspect of the matchup is the most troubling for Nashville, as their weakness (getting out-shot repeatedly at even strength) goes up against a Detroit team which dominates the flow of Shots For & Against. The Red Wings are the top 5-on-5 team in the league by a pretty fair margin, with the main driving force coming from Pavel Datsyuk, who is widely considered to be the top two-way forward in the NHL:


Pavel Datsyuk

#13 / Center / Detroit Red Wings

5-11

194

Jul 20, 1978



GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG
SOG PCT
2011 - Pavel Datsyuk 70 19 48 67 +21 14 4 0 5 164 11.6

One opportunity for the Predators to mitigate Detroit's edge here is on the faceoff dot - while Detroit has been the superior faceoff team over the course of the season, the ability to leverage Paul Gaustad for those defensive-zone draws could neutralize Detroit's ability to set up in the Preds' end to some extent.

Special Teams - Advantage Nashville

DET PP vs. NSH PK NSH PP vs. DET PK
GF/60 SF/60 Shoot % GA/60 SA/60 Save %
DET 5-on-4 5.7 (19th) 50 (11th) 11.5 (21st) 6.5 (21st) 46.5 (8th) 861 (25th) DET 4-on-5
NSH 4-on-5 6.1 (15th) 53.2 (24th) 885 (12th) 7.6 (1st) 45.4 (22nd) 16.8 (1st) NSH 5-on-4
GA/60 SA/60 Save % GF/60 SF/60 Shoot %

Who would have thought that the picture would look like this? There will be pressure on the Nashville power play to deliver the goods, but there's little reason to believe they won't be able to do so. Two of Detroit's main penalty killing forwards come into the series at less than 100%, as Darren Helm recovers from a knee injury (he may return for Game 1, but is more likely for Game 2), while Danny Cleary's knee is described as "bone on bone", and although you have to admire the guy's grit, it's hard to imagine he'll be fully effective.

The Predators might miss Hal Gill if he's not ready for Game One as he deals with a lower body injury (he took a shot off the foot late in last Thursday's game vs. Dallas)

Goaltending - Advantage Nashville

The Nashville Predators rely on goaltending to carry them through to a greater extent than many other teams, and Pekka Rinne has rewarded that trust:


Pekka Rinne

#35 / Goalie / Nashville Predators

6-5

209

Nov 03, 1982



GP MIN W L OTL GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2011 - Pekka Rinne 73 4169 43 18 8 166 2.39 2153 1987 .923 5

The Red Wings feel confident in their goaltending as well, however, as Jimmy Howard has seized the reins convincingly in Detroit. Injuries have troubled him in the second half of the season, however. First there was a broken finger, then a groin issue which developed after he came back. He got in five games at the end of the regular season, but you have to wonder if the Predators might be able to take advantage of Howard's wonky groin like they did Ray Emery's hip last spring when they beat Anaheim in the first round.


Jimmy Howard

#35 / Goalie / Detroit Red Wings

6-0

210

Mar 26, 1984



GP MIN W L OTL GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2011 - Jimmy Howard 57 3360 35 17 4 119 2.13 1496 1377 .920 6

Lines

The following lines and defense pairs come from Ansar Khan's report at Tuesday's practice:

Filppula-Zetterberg-Hudler

Franzen-Datsyuk-Bertuzzi

Miller-Abdelkader-Cleary

Nyquist-Emmerton-Holmstrom

Defense

Lidstrom-Ericsson

Kronwall-Stuart

Quincey-White

For the Predators, Josh Cooper reported the following:

Lines:

Sergei Kostitsyn - Mike Fisher - Martin Erat

Andrei Kostitsyn - David Legwand - Alexander Radulov

Gabriel Bourque - Nick Spaling -Patric Hornqvist

Matt Halischuk - Paul Gaustad - Craig Smith

Brandon Yip - Colin Wilson - Jordin Tootoo

The Yip/Wilson/Tootoo group looks like your healthy scratches for Game One, but we'll wait for more coming out of today's morning skate.

The defense pairs have been Suter/Weber, Gill/Josi, and Bouillon/Klein, with the availability of Gill being the wild card right now. If he can't go, it's probably a safe assumption that Jack Hillen would get the call over Ryan Ellis.

Predictions

Chris

Sigh. Picking the series that the Preds are in is always the most difficult. On the one hand, it's Detroit, and Nashville has only won one series in their existence. But this team feels different. This team has Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Alex Radulov, and Pekka Rinne in their primes, while Martin Erat is having a career year. They finished ahead of the Red Wings in the regular season for the first time. This is the logical next step. Predators in 6.

Marc

Last year I took the approach of not picking the Preds to win any of their playoff series, because I didn't want to mess up the mojo. But this year, I've just had too much kool-aid to drink. Bring on the Red Wings. Predators in 5.

George

I may suffer from betting with my heart over my head here, but I think the Preds have finally put a team together that can do dangerous things in the playoffs. Detroit has a lot of skill up front, and obviously great defense and goaltending. But the Wings bring out the best in the Preds, and there's a lot riding on beating the arch-rival in the playoffs. Predators in 6.

Dirk

Last July, some noses got bent out of joint when I took issue with the notion that hard work, defense and goaltending (Predator Hockey) were sufficient to get this team close to a Stanley Cup:

What concerns me is the lack of emphasis to develop an above-average NHL offense. There doesn't appear to be much urgency for bringing in proven talent up front, and when the power play was discussed at the Skate of the Union, nothing new was brought to the table, either. I believe the quote from Barry Trotz was along the lines of "eventually it will break through". Um, OK.

Fortunately, due in part to a combination of younger players' development (Craig Smith, Colin Wilson, Roman Josi) and mid-season additions to the lineup (Andrei Kostitsyn and Alexander Radulov), the team offense has turned out to be better than any of us could have expected. With the 8th-best offense in the league, and the 10th-best defense, one has to wonder if the model has been turned on its head in Nashville. As Sam described recently, it's like the team went through a rebuild on the fly in 9 months, rather than 9 years.

No longer a team featuring a couple of 2nd-line caliber scoring units supported by low-skill "checking & energy" lines, this version of the Predators has genuine 3-line offensive depth up front, a group of forwards who can not only come at you in numbers, but also boast an unprecedented diversity of skill and physical ability for this franchise.

Now, this is a team which can outscore the opposition, not just hold on for dear life and hope for a 1-0 or 2-1 victory. That versatility, which Barry Trotz should be able to deploy to best effect thanks to home ice advantage, gives the Preds enough to get past Big Brother for the first time in franchise history. Predators in 7.

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