With Game 1 in the rear view mirror, the Predators have an opportunity to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals with a win tonight. No doubt the Ducks are going to come out furious in this one, knowing that an 0-2 deficit against Nashville is a lot different from an 0-2 deficit against Edmonton.
Welcome to the toughest game of the year. Again.
The Anaheim Ducks
For a deeper dive into the Ducks as a team, check out our positional previews from Thursday and Friday:
If anyone was expecting this team to roll over after a hard fought Game 7 win over the Oilers, you were mistaken. Even with tired legs, they competed at every aspect of the game and forced overtime.
However, they did look a bit tired out there. Ryan Kesler was a force, but not quite the force we’ve gotten used to in the playoffs. I think tired legs could have been a factor. He was -7 in shot attempt differential (40.5%) and the Ducks allowed 22 shot attempts with him on the ice. He received the most defensive assignments of anyone and he played over five minutes on the penalty kill, but he is usually better than that.
Other guys that didn’t play particularly well were Shea Theodore (32.0% shot attempts for), Antoine Vermette (45.5% shot attempts for, turned the puck over that led to the Forsberg goal), and Sami Vatanen (34.29% shot attempts for, headed in Watson’s goal, overrun by the Neal-Sissons-Jarnkrok line). All of those guys have been better in the playoffs, so the Preds can count on a bounce back game tonight.
John Gibson was the best Duck on the ice. He kept his team in the game all night, especially on that 5-on-3, when he stopped Roman Josi from hammering home the go-ahead goal. As JC pointed out in our Q&A this morning, Gibson has played very well with the lead in the playoffs—he’s first in the league in save percentage when his team has the lead.
However, the Preds have been a tough team to stop when they’ve trailed in this postseason. It’s not something they have had to do often, but when they are down a goal, the Preds have a 59.8% shot attempt for percentage. That’s four percentage points higher than when the score is tied and 16 percentage points higher than when they have a lead.
I should point out that this is pretty standard score-effect stuff, but it’s still impressive. When the Preds trail, they become one of the best teams in the playoffs at playing their way back into the game.
I should also point out that they Preds have only played about 60 minutes of even strength hockey when trailing the game by a goal. They trailed once in the Chicago series, three times in the St. Louis series, and trailed early in Game 1 on Friday.
Conversely, the Preds have led by a goal for over 170 even strength minutes in the playoffs. That leads all playoff teams.
The Nashville Predators
It was great to see the Preds getting to the front of the net early and often on Friday. They will need more of that if they want to rattle Gibson and force this Ducks defense to work harder than it wants to.
That’s a lot of dangerous shot attempts right in front of Gibson, but it’s not just about the shot attempts when it comes to net presence for the Preds.
In addition to Filip Forsberg’s deflection from the slot, the Preds generated some quality net presence that led to the other two goals. On the Austin Watson goal, Cody McLeod (heyyyyy) drove Sami Vatanen into the crease, allowing Watson to bank the puck off of his head and into the goal. On James Neal’s goal, Mattias Ekholm had some downright medieval net presence, taking out a number of Ducks and clearing the way for the game winner.
All three goals were a product of having someone in front of Gibson, disrupting the play and allowing a more productive shot.
The keys to a victory tonight will be consistent net presence, continued puck presence in the offensive zone, and forcing the Ducks to take low percentage shots from outside. The Preds did all those things in Game 1 and were able to pull out a victory, so the same applies here.
Reasons to Watch
- The defenses: both blue-lines are fantastic and a lot of fun to watch. Hampus Lindholm is a force to be reckoned with and should not be taken lightly.
- The scrums: there will be a lot of them. Probably more than Friday. Makes for good television even if it doesn’t make for good hockey.
- JOFA is back to its old tricks. Johansen had an assist, Forsberg had a goal, and Arvidsson was everywhere as usual. This line is so much fun to watch.
The Important Details
Puck drop: 6:30 PM central
Radio: 102.5 The Game
All stats via Natural Stat Trick.