Friday’s column a day early…
Previewing Nashville vs. Vancouver
At 8pm CDT, the puck will drop on the first Stanley Cup semifinal series in Nashville history. Nashville is coming off a strong showing against the Anaheim Ducks and will now face the top seeded Vancouver Canucks.
There are some similarities between the Canucks and Ducks. Both teams feature two extremely talented top two lines and two incredibly good power play units (both roughly 24% conversion rate during the regular season). Both teams got about 29% of their goal production from the power play during the regular season.
Where Anaheim and Vancouver are very much different is their defense. While Vancouver does not have any blueliner that approaches the level of Shea Weber or Ryan Suter, they do have a very solid group from one to six. Nashville’s top six, however, proved that they are up to the challenge of facing two very dangerous lines in the Anaheim series at even strength.
One final difference from the Anaheim series is that Vancouver can put their own Vezina-nominated goaltender between the pipes. Like Nashville’s Pekka Rinne, however, Roberto Luongo has a lot of questions to answer after a subpar series against Chicago.
While the +/- stat is somewhat dubious, it is pretty good at indicating trends. In the Anaheim series, Nashville only had three minus players (only one of which was a defenseman). 12 of the 23 players that Anaheim iced in their series with Nashville were minus players including key players like Selanne, Visnovsky, Sbisa, Koivu, and Blake. To give up as many goals as Nashville did, those are very telling statistics at how strong Nashville was at even strength. Couple that with the fact that 14 of 21 players iced by Vancouver were minus players in the Chicago series, including key players like both Sedins, Salo, Edler and Ehroff, I feel they can limit Vancouver’s top lines at even strength (and the regular season series between Nashville and Vancouver also bears that out).
Here are the keys for a Nashville win:
- · Limit Vancouver’s power play opportunities. That means you, Shane O’Brien. I think the call-up of Teemu Laakso indicates that Barry Trotz is hedging his bets in two ways: the option to dress 7 defensemen with Laakso taking PK duty when O’Brien is in the box and the option of benching O’Brien outright if he continues to hurt the team.
- · Take advantage of any perceived mental and/or physical fatigue on the part of Vancouver. The first step is to earn at least a split of the first two games in Vancouver. The second aspect of that is to play the typical Nashville game of relentless pressure from the forecheck. If Nashville brings it hard every game, I like their chances with the rest they had.
- · Vancouver will attempt to take advantage of O’Brien, Nashville must take advantage of Hamhuis. Dan Hamhuis is a very good defenseman. He does have some flaws however, namely his propensity to turn the puck over when being forechecked hard. Like they did earlier this year, Nashville must force Hamhuis to turn the puck over and capitalize on it.
- · Lean on Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. Weber and Suter were leaned on to hold Anaheim in check at even strength. They will need to follow up that great job with another great job against the Sedins and the Kesler line.
- · Finally, Pekka Rinne must play like the Vezina nominee he is. Rinne was not at his best in the Anaheim series. To beat Vancouver, a more balanced team than Anaheim, he will have to be. Rinne tends to be better when he’s more involved (read: seeing a lot of shots come his way). There’s a pretty good chance he’ll see more than he did against Anaheim. If Nashville has any chance, he’ll have to improve that save percentage.
With Nashville’s play at even strength, their ability to stay disciplined, Vancouver coming off a tough series with little rest, and the fact that I believe that Rinne will round back into form, I think Nashville wins this series in six games.
About the Author: Nashville Predators Blogger, Software Engineer (C#.NET), Novice Woodworker, Southern Cook, Husband, Father of Two. You may contact me at David.R.Singleton AT gmail.com.