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Faceoffs, Mike Fisher, and Being Rusty: What to take out of Game 1 against Phoenix


Photo Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

No one really knew what to expect coming into Game 1 against Phoenix. Nashville had a 7-day layoff and was expected to come out of the gate slow, while Phoenix had played 5 out of it’s 6 first round games all the way to overtime and no one knew if they could keep up that same pace against a more offensively and defensively sound Predators team.

After allowing Nashville to tie it up late in regulation, Phoenix yet again snuck out an overtime victory giving them a 1-0 lead in the best of seven series, yet they were severely out-shot and out-played by the Predators over the course of the final 40+ minutes of the game.

Nashville looked slow and rough in the first period against Phoenix in Game 1 of their Western Conference Semifinals matchup, not being able to get much sustained pressure in the Coyotes zone or on Mike Smith. However, as the game progressed, the rust wore off and the Predators found their game. Yet, it may have been too little and too late.

The Predators really didn’t fully get going until the third period, when they were already trailing 3-2 to the Coyotes. Yet, over the course of the final 20 minutes of the third period and the 14 minutes of overtime, Nashville threw 25 of their 42 shots towards Mike Smith, which most of them were up-close quality chances.

Mike Smith had an answer for all but one of them.

Can Nashville say they now know how Chicago felt when the Blackhawks were stoned by Smith? Or what about how Detroit felt when they were stoned by Pekka Rinne? I personally believe that Smith is a great goaltender….but he’s not going to be able to keep this up for a 7-game series against Nashville. If you take away Nashville’s awful first period, the Predators did enough to walk out of Arena with a Game 1 win, and Phoenix’s Dave Tippet definitely knows this.

“The third period they cranked it up and we didn’t respond,” said Tippett, “We’re fortunate to get the first one under our belt, but if we expect to have a chance to win this series, we’re going to have to be far better than we were tonight.”

The thing that hurt the Predators the most? Faceoffs. Nashville went an abysmal 32 out of 76 from the faceoff dot last night and here is the break down:

Gabriel Bourque: 1-2
Martin Erat: 2-4
Mike Fisher: 10-26
Paul Gaustad: 9-13
Andrei Kostitsyn: 0-1
David Legwand: 1-10
Alex Radulov: 0-2
Nick Spaling: 9-20

What’s glaring there? Fisher’s 38.5% and Legwand’s 10%. Gaustad was 69.2% from the faceoff dot but only played 9:27 total. Legwand was 10% from the faceoff dot. That’s awful. There is no sugar coating that, that is just plain awful. Legwand and Fisher both were working on faceoffs during practice today, so that’s a plus. But, 10% from Legwand? That’s not going to cut it for one of Nashville’s top 2 centermen.

Speaking of Mike Fisher, he’s going to have to start stepping up and contributing for Nashville. I noted during my tweets last night that Fisher was looking for a chance to pass rather than a chance to shoot. Fisher gave up at least two prime attempts in the slot to fire a clean shot towards Mike Smith but chose to pass it away instead. Granted, I don’t play the game (professionally, or good, for that matter), however when a clear shot presents itself, it’s usually prudent to put it on net.

Fisher is a veteran with tons of playoff experience, he helped lead Ottawa to a Stanley Cup Finals in 2007 and contributed 10 points in 20 games and was nearly 54% in faceoffs. 2 assists in 6 games isn’t going to help a team that drastically relies on his top line services to help them night in and night out. Although the Predators thrive on “scoring by committee” and the third/fourth lines have been effective so far, Fisher has to lead by example and help his line out. Either by making plays and getting Sergei Kostitsyn on the board more or taking the chances himself and putting some pucks to the back of the net. Now, Fisher DID try and set Sergei Kostitsyn up a couple of times last night, however passes directly onto the stick of the opposition usually aren’t going to work.

Regardless, Nashville has their work cut out against them if they want to at least earn a split in the desert tomorrow night against Phoenix in Game 2. The Predators know what they need to do and showed it quite well over the last couple of periods, however as I’ve been preaching all season long, a 60 minute effort is going to be needed. Nashville can no longer afford to take periods off, as they’ve reached the point in the season where teams are going to burn them if they do, the first period last night was a clear example. Although there was clear amount of rust on the wheels last night as the puck dropped to start the game, the Predators are a group of professionals and they know they can’t start games that way.

That being said, here’s what you need to watch tomorrow night in Game 2:

1) How Nashville starts the game. The WHOLE night could be defined by Nashville’s first 5-10 minutes on the ice. If it’s a slow start like Game 1 where the Predators build up as the game goes along, chances are Phoenix will convert their necessary chances early and you may see a mirror image of Friday night.

2) Nashville’s powerplay. The Predators finally got on the board in the third period, ending the game going 1-5 with the man advantage. Nashville’s potent regular season powerplay has gone 3-27 so far this post-season (11.1%). Time for some in-series changes for Barry Trotz. Phoenix gave Weber/Suter a bit more time than Detroit did, you’d have to wonder if it starts there

3) Rinne’s mental focus. 4 goals on 24 shots. Very uncharacteristic for Pekka Rinne and he noted to Willy Daunic (@WillyD1025 on Twitter) about it as well, saying:

“It’s different when you face 30-40 shots. Easier to stay engaged. But no excuses. I have to stay mentally focused and help my team”

The Predators are now 1-2 when outshooting their opponents. Now that stat may not mean anything, but everyone knows that when Rinne likes to stay busy. He’s going to have to find a way to be “impekkable” regardless of how many shots he faces.


That about does it for right now. I hope to have a special treat for you all either tonight or tomorrow, I’ll keep everyone posted. Thanks and stay tuned for our Game 2 preview!