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Predators’ Game 1 Performance Brings Optimism

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Regardless of the result, you have to like what you saw out of the Preds in Game 1.

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Nashville Predators at Pittsburgh Penguins Don Wright-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve seen this before.

After the Predators took Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals on James Neal’s overtime winner, they found themselves up 2-0 in Game 2. It didn’t last long. The Ducks stormed back to tie the game, then after the Preds took the lead again at 3-2, the Ducks responded again. Anaheim eventually won on a Nick Ritchie goal that Rinne probably should have had.

While the game flow looked a bit different last night, the result felt about the same. The Predators looked like the dominant team against the Penguins in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final last night, but couldn’t turn it into a win. Jake Guentzel’s goal with just over three minutes remaining—another goal that Rinne probably should have had—was the game winner and now the Pens lead the series 1-0.

So what should we expect on Wednesday? If we see more of the same from last night, we should see better results.

Regardless of the result of the game, you have to like what you saw last night from the Predators. They outplayed the Penguins for most of the game and held them to only 12 shots on net. The game was far from perfection for the Preds, but the on-ice product should make fans optimistic for the rest of the series.

Sissons Playing His Role

First, you have to like what Colton Sissons brought last night. In just over 18 minutes, he had seven shots on goal, including a power play goal. Admittedly, it was really Roman Josi that powered home the shot, which deflected off Sissons’ leg. But Sissons was great at getting to the front of the net, working very well with Filip Forsberg and Pontus Aberg on the top line.

He was also a big part of shutting down Evgeni Malkin. Malkin finished with a sub 36% shot attempt differential, only generating five shot attempts on the night, while giving up nine. Sissons was a huge part of that. In six minutes on the ice against Malkin, Sissons did not give up a shot attempt.

Coming on as Ryan Johansen’s replacement on the top line, it’s hard to imagine a better result for Sissons through the first three games in his new role. He’s scored four goals in his last two games, including a hat trick in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, and has helped shut down top NHL players like Malkin and Ryan Getzlaf.

Subban Led Defensive Effort

P.K. Subban was incredible last night. He led the team in shot attempts for (17) and shot attempt differential (+12) and was a huge part of the comeback for the Preds. His goal probably should have counted, but even without it he was electric.

Once again, though, it was his defense that was key. His speed and strength in the defensive zone has always been amazing to watch and he demonstrated both last night. He was able to retrieve pucks that the Penguins thought were deep enough and was able to dump-out when the Penguins thought they had enough pressure. His partner Mattias Ekholm gave up the unfortunate 3rd goal of the game, but both played very well throughout the game.

These two continue to be the best defensive pairing for the Preds.

Power Play Returns

Boy was this nice to see. The Predators power play was fairly inept against the Ducks, going 2 for 22 in the series (9.0%). In fact, they hardly even looked threatening in that series, culminating in that awful five minute power play where they didn’t register a shot.

But last night, they were much better. They only had four shots on goal in three tries, but they managed to score twice. Both times, the Preds blueline contributed to the scoring, as has been the case for years. Ryan Ellis’ goal was a product of crisp passing from Subban and a net-front screen by Viktor Arvidsson.

Colton Sissons’ goal was a bit less conventional. A centering pass from Calle Jarnkrok went wide of James Neal, but fell right to Josi on the opposite circle. His shot caromed in off of Sissons’ leg, but were it not for the presence in front of the net by Sissons and Neal, it might have been a routine save for Matt Murray.

Throughout these playoffs, the Preds have shown a remarkable ability to overcome the odds. Facing the top seeded Blackhawks in the first round should have derailed the Preds chances of advancing in the first round. The physicality of the Blues was supposed to knock the Preds off their game. The loss of Kevin Fiala and Ryan Johansen should have spelled certain doom for the eventual Western champs. Pekka Rinne wasn’t supposed to be a Conn Smythe favorite.

Odds are there to tell us what should happen, not what will. That’s what has made watching this Predators team so much fun to watch. They’ve beat the odds almost every time.

The best thing the Preds can do right now is trust that Laviolette’s system will bring them wins. It’s worked so far in the playoffs and there’s no reason to think it won’t work in the Stanley Cup Final.