Our 1st round break down of the #4 Nashville Predators vs the #5 Detroit Red Wings
Who’s better? OFFENSE – PUSH
On paper, you would think Detroit would have the edge here (and they may have a slight edge in terms of overall offense). However as the years have progressed, the gap in offensive differential between these two teams has slowly made it’s way towards middle ground. While Nashville finished only 7 goals behind Detroit in overall goal scoring for the season, the top 2 lines for both teams sound just as potent as their counterparts.
Like I said, on PAPER Detroit has the edge (and by names as well). You look at their line-ups and you know names like Datsyuk/Zetterberg/Bertuzzi/Holmstrom/Franzen for Detroit, but the only real house-hold name from Nashville’s offense is Radulov (and MAYBE Fisher) due to all of his recent publicity.
The Predators are going to have to show the world why their offense is 8th ranked in the entire NHL (only 1 behind 7th ranked Detroit). That’s why this is a push in my opinion. Stats out-weigh big names, and Nashville’s closing in on Detroit in terms of the equality mark.
Who’s better? DEFENSE – PUSH
This is nearly the same argument that I have for offense above. Nashville gave up only 5 more goals than Detroit did all year long, earning 8th overall in the NHL behind Detroit at 7th overall. However, the names are just as big for Nashville as they are for Detroit.
With arguably the number one defensive pairing in the league guarding the blue line in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, Nashville’s top 2 are going to have their hands full stopping the dynamo’s over on Detroit’s offense. Yet, what I’m more worried about is the effectiveness of the other 4 members of Nashville’s defense.
While Suter/Weber make up the top 2, Klein/Josi/Bouillon/Gill are going to make up the final 4. Comparing it to Lidstrom/Stuart/Kronwall/White/Ericsson/and Quincey gives the edge to Nashville, but you’re going to have expect that Hal Gill will be the definitive defensive x-factor for the Predators. If Gill can do to Bertuzzi/Holmstrom/Franzen what he did to Kesler earlier this season versus Vancouver, then Nashville stands a chance at REALLY shutting down Detroit all series.
The Predators struggled earlier this season against Detroit, going 2-1-0 in their first three games and giving up 11 goals while only scoring 6. However, from the February 17th game against the Wings and on, it’s been a much different story. Outscoring Detroit 8-5 in those 3 games and going 2-1-0 in them shows that Nashville’s additions from the trade deadline have helped them deter one of the more elite teams in the league.
The only question will be if the Predators defense can hold the Wings over a 7-game series.
Who’s better? GOALTENDING – NASHVILLE
Two words: Pekka Rinne
Rinne’s stats this year may not have been as spectacular as his Vezina Trophy-finalist stats last season, but his save-calibur and his performances nonetheless have been just as worthy.
Finishing the season with an NHL-leading 43 wins, including 5 shutouts and a 2.39 GAA/.923 Sv%, Rinne has to try and duplicate his regular season numbers in the playoffs. Why would you want a 2.39 GAA/.923 Sv% in the playoffs? It would be better than what Rinne is CURRENTLY averaging in the post-season, that’s for sure.
Even though Rinne is hands down a better goaltender than Jimmy Howard, even when Howard is 100% healthy, Rinne has a little trouble in the playoffs:
2010/2011 Playoffs: 6-6-0, 2.57 GAA, .907 Sv%
2009/2010 Playoffs: 2-4-0, 2.68 GAA, .911 Sv%
As much as those numbers are troubling come this time of the season, Rinne’s game-stealing abilities was almost enough to stop Vancouver last season. However, the Finnish netminder has been victim of some lopsided affairs in the 10 losses he’s had in the playoffs so far.
In Rinne’s 8 career playoff wins, he’s given up 15 goals and had a 1.87 GAA / .931 Sv% facing an average of 27 shots a night.
In his 10 career playoff losses? Rinne has given up 36 goals and had a 3.60 GAA / .886 Sv% facing an average of 32 shots a night.
In games where Rinne has given up 3 or more goals? He’s 3-7. It’s pretty simple to say that although Rinne is the better goaltender, he’s going to have to buckle down and hold the Red Wings to as few goals as possible.
Who’s better? SPECIAL TEAMS – NASHVILLE
This one is fairly easy and there isn’t an “edge to” factor like some of the previous questions. Nashville has the number one powerplay in the league (of teams in or out of the playoffs), YES you read that right. Nashville has the 10th best penalty kill in the league (8th among teams in the playoffs right now). Detroit has the 22nd ranked powerplay (13th among teams in the playoffs) and the 18th best penalty kill (11th among teams in the playoffs) in the entire league.
If special teams were EVER going to factor into a series in Nashville’s history, this is the one where it will. Nashville and Detroit were the two LEAST penalized teams in the NHL this season, so if either get a large amount of penalty minutes it’s going to be a surprise. However, if Detroit starts a train of players heading in and out of the penalty box, it’s going to be a very short series for the Red Wings.
Even though Nashville’s penalty kill is doing much better now than it did at the beginning of the season, if the penalty train reverses direction and sends the Predators back and forth to the penalty box, can Nashville kill off enough to maintain the edge in the series?
As John Buccigross was saying last night in the podcast playoff preview that I participated in, your strongest penalty killer is always your goaltender. This is where we’ll find out how ready for the playoffs Pekka Rinne is and if/whether the 73 games he played in the regular season took a large toll on him physically/mentally or not.
The X-Factor: Detroit Red Wings – JIMMY HOWARD
Jimmy Howard has played 5 straight games with the Red Wings since being back from a groin injury that kept him out for the majority of February and March. Howard’s record of 35-17-4 has a real downside to it, though:
Before January 1st: 31-10-1, 2.01 GAA, .917 Sv%
On/After January 1st: 4-7-3, 2.42 GAA, .907 Sv%
A near half-point bump in GAA and a slight drop in save percentage, but you can clearly see that Howard hasn’t been the same since he’s been out of the lineup. Struggling to get back to take over from Conklin/MacDonald who were backstopping the Wings in his absence, Howard played the final 5 games for the Red Wings, going 2-2-1 and missing out on a chance to clinch Home Ice Advantage for Detroit.
If Detroit wants ANY chance at all in this series, Howard is going to have to play lights out hockey. Nashville’s offense is the best it’s been since 2006-2007 and they’re more than likely going to notch it up here in the playoffs
The X-Factor: Nashville Predators – ALEXANDER RADULOV
We’ve already talked about how Pekka Rinne has to be a better player in the playoffs, so I chose Radulov as the X-Factor for the Predators. With his dynamic offensive skills and from what we’ve seen in the few games that he’s played with Nashville thus far, Radulov is going to be the spark that the Predators have been missing from the playoffs in their previous 2 trips.
Imagine a Radulov-esque player against Chicago 2 years ago…or a Radulov-esque player against Vancouver last year. Would Chicago/Vancouver made it to the Cup finals? I doubt they would have progressed past their respective matchups against Nashville. The main difference last year against Vancouver was that Nashville couldn’t keep putting the puck in the back of the net past Luongo. This year that hasn’t been a problem.
Since his return, opponents have had to keep an eye on Radulov and sometimes double-team him to prevent what would have been certain breakaways from the young Russian powerhouse. Yet, sometimes, even being double-teamed by one of the top defensive pairings in the league isn’t going to stop Radulov from scoring (see Rads vs Chicago 4 games ago).
If Detroit gives Radulov any type of space, he’s going to score on them, that much is simple. However, keeping a close eye on Radulov is going to give a bit more space to the rest of Nashville’s line up, which will undoubtedly lead to more chances for the Predators as the series progresses.
Regardless if Radulov is the series-changer or not, his presence alone will be enough to give the Nashville Predators a boost in this series.
Game By Game Prediction:
Game 1: Nashville 3, Detroit 1
Game 2: Nashville 4, Detroit 2
Game 3: Detroit 3, Nashville 2 (OT)
Game 4: Nashville 4, Detroit 1
Game 5: Nashville 3, Detroit 2 (OT)
Final – Nashville wins the series over Detroit, 4 games to 1
I originally batted around the idea of Nashville winning in 5, then I changed it to Nashville winning in 6, however I’m going back to my original pick of Nashville in 5.
The key difference? Nashville’s crowd.
In the past 15 home games against the Wings (including the 3 playoff games in 2007-2008) Nashville is 9-2-4 against Detroit. Pretty impressive. With the crowds in Nashville the biggest they’ve ever been and the ratio of Predators fans to Wings fans being a lot more Gold than Red this season, it’s safe to say that the decibel level in the Bridgestone Arena is going to be more than the Red Wings can bear.
If Nashville can successfully sweep the first two home games against Detroit and earn a split at the Joe, the Predators will clinch their trip to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs next Friday in front of a raucous crowd at Bridgestone Arena. Although, I don’t believe there will be that many tears shed this time, maybe more sighs of relief that the Predators finally muscled past their long-time measuring stick of Detroit.