Things looked grim for the Predators back in January. On the outside of the playoff picture and with a front office unsure of whether to be buyers or sellers, the Predators did not seem to be in a great place. But after a long winter, the team pulled itself together, made some moves, got hot, and here they are... ready to clinch the playoffs for the 2nd consecutive year. With that in mind, we look ahead to 1st round of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs, examining some of the potential match-ups for the Predators.
How They Got Here
For the most part, the Kings have coasted along easily in the Pacific Division. The Ducks were in absentia for most of the season, the Sharks were plagued with inconsistency, and the rest of the division just didn't have the pieces. The Kings relied on their veterans to lead their gaggle of younger players, with guys like Milan Lucic, Jeff Carter, and Anze Kopitar helping out guys like Tanner Pearson, Tyler Toffoli, and Andy Andreoff. The Kings score 2.72 goals per game, which puts them just behind the Preds in that regard. But it's their defense and goaltending that has led them. Jonathan Quick has been consistent all year, helping the Kings to an NHL best 2.31 goals allowed per game. His .918 save % is right on his career average and, remember, he gets better in April & May.
Match-ups To Avoid
- Jonathan Quick Playoff Space-Time Quantum Wormhole: In the playoffs, pucks go into the wormhole and they do not come out. With Quick's save percentage seeing a 7 point bump (from .916% to .923%) from regular season to playoffs, the Preds do not want get into a mental battle with this guy. You know, like they did last year with Scott Darling. If Quick stands on his head early and the Preds' sharp-shooters continue to come away frustrated, it will be a very short series.
- Shea Weber vs. All Those Dumb Centers: We know that Shea Weber is most effective on the blue-line. Either the offensive one or the defensive one. But as we've seen, when Weber gets backed up on his own goal line, forced to defend shots from the slot or other high dangerous areas, he tends to struggle. And that's exactly where Tyler Toffoli, Jeff Carter, and Anze Kopitar like to live. The Preds will need to find a way to consistently deny easy zone entries and to keep everything to the outside as much as possible, so Weber can be free to stroll the blue-line at will.
Match-ups To Exploit
- The penalty box: The Kings are one of the most penalized teams that will make the playoffs this year. They are 6th in the league in overall time spent on the penalty-kill, with over 430 minutes spent in the box. Combine that with an average PK unit (81.4%, 15th in the league) and you have an advantage to exploit. If the Preds can bait the Kings into some penalties, particularly early in games, they could get some early momentum.
- Bottom-pairing defense: We know all about the playoff experience of Drew Doughty and Alec Martinez, but the Kings will have to rely on defensive minutes from some guys who are still green when it comes to playoff speed: Luke Schenn has 7 games playoff experience, Brayden McNabb has zero. In addition, 37 year-old Rob Scuderi has plenty of playoff experience, but in his 112 career playoff games, he has 1 goal and a -3.5 relative Corsi rating. The Kings will try to roll mostly with Doughty, Martinez, and Muzzin, but other guys will have to step in at times. The Preds will need to exploit those times.
Player That Could Make The Difference
- Pekka Rinne: Sure, you could make the case that Rinne is the biggest difference maker for the Preds regardless of any match-up. But with the Kings, it will be paramount. The Kings defense is very, very good. If they are given freebies at the other end, they will only get better. If Rinne can return to 2011-12 playoff form, the Preds stand a great chance to win this series. In that playoff stretch, Rinne carried the team through the Red Wings series, then played well enough to win the Coyotes series. In 10 games that post-season, Rinne had a .929 save % and was the MVP of the team by far.
If The Kings Were A GoT Baddie, They'd Be
The White Walkers
Children of The Long Night, simply waiting for the final battle to begin. They are neither living, nor dead. They do not have desire. They do not have agenda. They simply march, reviving the dead among them, employing their kind to servitude under the Night King.
Anyone who watches or has read the Game Of Thrones series knows it's just a matter of time before the White Walkers traverse The Wall and lay waste to the silly corruptions of man within Westeros. These frivolous matters of who has the throne, who owes money, where will Jimmy Vesey sign, who has spies in the United Center, etc. are all just prologues to the inevitable future: the Kings will revive their hordes and march slowly but assuredly to House Stanley and raise the Cup. I mean, why else would the Night King be mocking Jon Snow with his Cup raise celly?
(April 24th here yet?)