In an extremely closely contested series so far the Nashville Predators have bounced back from a Game 1 upset loss at Bridgestone Arena to take a 2-1 lead over the Dallas Stars heading in to Game 4 on Wednesday night. A Dallas win and we’re tied at 2-2 heading back to Nashville for Game 5. A Preds win and we’re still heading back to Nashville but the home team will be up 3-1 and have an opportunity to close out the series. All three games so far in this series have been decided by a single goal with Game Two going to overtime.
The Nashville Predators can be a maddening team to watch. At their best, they look like Stanley Cup contenders. At their worst, they look very ordinary. During the regular season they had a very solid team defense allowing just 2.59 goals per game good for a third place tie in the category. The penalty kill was solid as well at 82.1% ranking #6 in the NHL. The scoring attack was down in recent years–Nashville ranked #19 in goals per game with 2.88. The big issue was the inexplicably bad power play performance. The Predators had a 12.9% conversion rate with a man advantage–that’s dead last in the NHL. Their 33 PPG goals was tied with the Islanders for the second lowest in the league and just two more than the last place Montreal Canadiens.
Their power play struggles are tough to figure out–they’ve got talented forwards like Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg amd Viktor Arvidsson. They’ve also got one of the best defenseman corps in the NHL including Roman Josi, P.K. Subban and Ryan Ellis. Logic suggests that they’ve got the players to do damage on the power play but that’s not the case. Part of the problem is tactical–they need to get more puck movement and high percentage shots in man advantage situations. Instead, they’re more inclined to fire away from the perimeter. That was significantly more effective when the Preds had Shea Weber and his 108 MPH Howitzer-like slap shot on the point. They made the trade for P.K. Subban thinking that his ability to make things happen bringing the puck up ice so its a head scratcher why they don’t use his wide range of skills more effectively on the power play. Of course some of the problem could be variance–Nashville had the #12 power play in hockey last year with essentially the same group of players.
Dallas has a better power play than Nashville (21% for #11 in the league) but struggle putting pucks in the net 5 on 5. Their 2.55 goals per game was tied for #28 in the NHL with Arizona and ahead of only Los Angeles and Anaheim. You have no doubt noticed the company they’re in here–the Coytoes, Ducks and Kings are all watching the playoffs on TV. There are only two playoff teams that ranked #20 or lower in goals scored per game–the New York Islanders are #22 at 2.72 goals per game. The reason that the Islanders and Stars are in the post season? They finished first and second in scoring defense.
Nashville has won 7 of 9 dating back to the regular season with the only losses in that stretch to Dallas in Game 1 of this series and to Columbus late in the regular season. That loss to the Blue Jackets looks significantly more reasonable now than it did at the time. For whatever reason, Nashville has really had Dallas’ number in recent years. The Predators are 11-6 overall against the Stars during the last three seasons including a 5-2 record in Dallas. We’ll give the edge to Nashville here. They have more versatility than Dallas and if Pekka Rinne plays as well as he did in Game 3 (40 saves) there’s little that the Stars can do.