Penguins Playoff Preview: Preds No Easy Prey – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Penguins Playoff Preview: Preds No Easy Prey

It was Thursday, April 13. While working the evening shift at Wright’s Gym, I intermittently glanced up at the Chicago-Nashville hockey game on the big screen TV behind the front desk. Much to my surprise, the visiting Predators shutout the heavily favored Blackhawks, 1-0.

Like many fans, I’d envisioned the high-flying ‘Hawks soaring through the Western Conference playoffs. I was shocked as anyone when the 16th-seed Preds proceeded to sweep their mighty adversary, fueling a stunning run to the Stanley Cup Final.

So who are these guys? And are they for real?

Twelve wins in 16 postseason games tells me they are.

In some ways, the Predators and our Penguins are kissin’ cousins. No great surprise, since attack-oriented coaches Mike Sullivan and Peter Laviolette preach an up-tempo style. Both clubs get pucks and bodies to the net and are extremely opportunistic. And both are backed by rock-solid goalies—Nashville’s Pekka Rinne (1.70 GAA) and our own Matt Murray (1.35 GAA).

There are differences, too. Perhaps more than any team we’ve faced, Nashville’s defense drives the offense. They join the rush at every opportunity, creating chaos and matchup issues in the other team’s zone.

Eleven of the Preds’ 47 postseason goals—a whopping 23.4 percent—come from the ultra-mobile backline triumvirate of Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi and former Montreal bad boy P.K. Subban. By comparison, the Pens’ defense—shorn of puck-mover Kris Letang—has contributed 13.7 percent (8 of 58) of our goals.

Add in hulking 6’4” 215-pounder Mattias Ekholm (eight assists, plus-10), and it’s easy to see why Nashville has such a deadly transition game. They boast a top four on defense that few teams can match.

While not as deep up front, the Preds do possess some talent. Left wing Filip Forsberg—no relation to longtime NHL great Peter Forsberg—employs a gritty style similar to his namesake. He’s fourth among non-Penguins in playoff scoring with eight goals and 15 points. Center Colton Sissons and ex-Pens sniper James Neal are next in line with five markers apiece.

With stud center Ryan Johansen on the shelf for the duration of the playoffs, there’s a precipitous drop-off. Austin Watson, a mountainous Music City forward who leads all playoff performers with 81 hits, has been a pleasant surprise with four goals. Speedy left wing Viktor Arvidsson—the Preds’ leading goal-getter during the regular season—has lots of skill but has yet to catch fire this postseason (two goals). Veteran captain Mike Fisher’s still an effective checking forward and faceoff man (52.1 percent), but his days as a scoring threat are long past.

After that it’s mostly a cast of fast, gritty guys with tongue-twisting names like Pontus Aberg and Calle Jarnkrok (Harry Zolnierczyk, too) who have the speed and pluck to make life miserable for the Pens’ defense.

Indeed, hunger and grit seem to be the Preds’ watchwords, which makes them an especially dangerous opponent.

From a Steel City perspective, the Pens’ offensive pedigree is beyond reproach. Boasting four of the league’s top seven playoff scorers—Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel and Jake Guentzel—the black and gold are a handful for any team to contend with. Factor in second-tier scorers like power plant Patric Hornqvist, Bryan Rust and a resurgent Conor Sheary? The Pens have so many weapons.

And good as Rinne is, we’ve exploited him, big time. In fact, we’ve beaten him like Mike Lange’s poor old rented mule. In eight career starts against the locals—all during the regular season—the rangy Finn’s posted a sorry 1-5-2 record to go with a bloated 3.57 goals against average and an equally miserable .880 save percentage. No other NHL club has roughed him up so.

Nashville’s lesser used third defensive tandem of Matt Irwin and Yannick Weber—which averages a little over 11 minutes a game—could be a soft spot as well, especially against a foe that rolls four capable lines like our Pens.

Still, the Predators were able to keep Western Conference opponents on their heels. Accordingly, the Pens must avoid a repeat of rounds one and two, when they allowed Columbus and Washington to dictate play and spend an inordinate amount of time in their zone. The black-and-gold defense—black and blue from the long playoff grind—won’t be able to withstand the pounding.

It all boils down to which team can impose its will. Given our decided edge in offensive talent—not to mention high-stakes playoff experience—if we have enough gas left in the tank to carry the play to Nashville and pressure Rinne, I like our chances to repeat as Cup champions.

Penguins in six.

American Showdown

Among the more interesting backstories is an intriguing matchup of American-born coaches—the first ever in a Stanley Cup Final.

Sullivan and his Preds counterpart, Laviolette, have a lot in common. They hail from small towns in Massachusetts, situated only 32 miles apart. Both played collegiate hockey in New England—Laviolette at tiny Westfield State and Sullivan at Boston University. The Nashville skipper had a 12-game cameo with the Rangers in 1988-89; Sully carved out an 11-year NHL career. And both won Stanley Cups while coaching under present Pens GM Jim Rutherford.

In fact, when JR hired Sullivan to take over for Mike Johnston in December of 2015, he likened him to the former ‘Canes skipper.

By the Numbers
Team GF GA Shots S% Shots/PG SA/PG PP% PK% FOW%
Pens 58 44 574 10.1 30.2 32.6 25.0 85.5 51.0
Preds 47 29 479 9.8 29.9 29.7 14.9 88.1 50.1

*Be sure to check out Rick Buker’s books,
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  1. Jim's Gravatar Jim
    May 30, 2017 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    Hey Rick,
    I was waiting to see what others thought about last nights disaster !!!! The old saying lose a battle but win the war…..Fitting line for Memorial Day game.
    We won the battle, really should not have !!! and if we do not smarten up we are going to lose the WAR for sure. That was a terrible execution last night of a Cup final. No shots in the second period. 3 real shots in the third. The other 2 were just directed to the Goalie at the end and do not count in my books. 40 minutes of play. A power play included and only 3 shots on net. Really 5 goals on 10 real shots.
    Lets count them back…..Goal # 5 an empty net. Goal # 4 the Preds goalie had not seen a real scoring chance in 2 periods. He was a sleep… Goal # 3 Ricocheted off the Preds d man and was not a shot on net. He misdirected it into his own net. Goal # 2.. A real beauty..Tic, Tac, Goal by Sheary.
    Goal # 1 we had a 5 on 3 power play and for 80 seconds we look lost.
    The 3 Preds were every where. Please excuse me for saying this Rick, BUT buy the time your are in the Cup finals you are supposed to be the best of the best . 5 on 3 they should have had 2 goals.Very lucky to get one.
    So my point was even though we won the game,( the Battle) if we do not pick up our socks and play harder we will lose the War for sure. Now i truly know how Black hawks fans felt. This is a number 8 seed and they out played us all night.Their d corps was everywhere. We looked tired and slow !!
    Matt Murray was the star last night.. The poor bugger had more people run him over last night and nobody did a thing. We need size on the D corps !!
    I waiting to see what you post…. Hopefully this was like game 1 in Ottawa where by we had to learn their style and we were out played but adapted to their ways. I am expecting a different effort in game 2.
    Just letting of steam..
    3 more wins to go.
    Lets Go pens…

  2. the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
    May 29, 2017 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Saw an article on Ron Hainsey. I didn’t read it, but it got me to thinking, this is a guy who has never been to the play-offs at all in his career and here he is, his first trip, after all those years, and he is in the finals.

    • Jim's Gravatar Jim
      May 29, 2017 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

      It will be a great ending to a long career. It reminds me of Boston great Raymond Borque. Mr. Boston. He was going to retire when Bruin management traded him to Colorado for a chance to win a cup. After all he gave to the fans of Boston that was a classy move by management. He indeed got his cup ring and still was and is a hero in Boston.
      Good for Hainsey .Streit as well.
      Let’s go Pens.

  3. Jim's Gravatar Jim
    May 28, 2017 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    Hey Rick,
    What is most interesting to me is how both teams were assembled. Two contrasting theories. To build any successful Cup winning team you first need elite Goal tending !!. Nashville has Rinne, and we have Murray and MAF.
    One theory believes you build out from the Goalie position by building a solid defensive corps, then add you centers and finally add the wingers. I call this theory building outwards. The other theory states you build from your center positions, then the forwards and finally the defensive corps last.
    I call this theory building backwards.
    I believe that the Pens were built backwards by drafting Malkin,then Crosby and then Jordan Stall. Fast forward to 2016 we still find that with Sid, Geno, Bonino and Cullen we still are center dominant. The Preds do not match up. Then adding Phil who also is an elite super star player who has to be included with Sid and Geno, and then the next tier of talent Jake G. Rust, Hagelin, Hornqvist, Sheary and Kunitz. Finally the other rookies, Wilson, Rowney, and Archibald who have all made contributions in the 2017 Cup run.
    Contrast that to the Nashville Predators who had super star defense men Shea Webber, Seth Jones and all the other great d-men you mentioned.
    So their team philosophy was built different than ours. Outward !
    For me this is the test to see if that old saying,” does good defense beat good offense” hold true. Of course the Preds have some great forwards as we have d- men, but their team philosophy was different from the beginning.
    Plus they have evolved into a run and gun style of play as we have.
    Push the puck as they say.
    This should be an interesting series, but I believe offense will beat defense and I see us winning the series in 6 games or less, barring major injuries.
    Plus Ellis is only 5’10”,180 # and Jossi is 6′,201 #. They do not have that size advantage as did Washington or Columbus.
    Reading the analysis of the 4 game sweep by Nashville over Chicago, it was mentioned that Toews thought Chicago beat themselves in that Nashville scored when they had their chances and Chicago was beaten by a super Goal tender. Chicago got frustrated as the series went on, the pressure got to them and they took to many penalties in games 3 and 4. If they had to do it all over again, they would have played a physical series and try to wear down the smaller d-corps and win in 6 or 7 games instead of thinking it would be over in 5 games Toews said to local media. Interesting.

    Hope you enjoy your Holiday Rick !! Have lots of good food to eat.. 🙂

    Lets Go Pen’s !! 4 More !!!! You are making History in the Cap ERA.

    * once again terrific TV ratings…great entertainment ..Congratulations.

    • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
      May 28, 2017 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

      Hey Jim,

      Interesting juxtaposition. Crosby – is the cornerstone of the Pens but remember, when the Pens built this team the built it outward to use your naming system. After the Pens hit rock bottom, the started rebuilding the team with D and G before they drafted Crosby and Malkin. Orpik, Whitney, and Fleury before they drafted Malkin, Crosby, and Staal. They also brought in Gonchar roughly the same time they drafted Crosby. They haven’t really drafted wingers with their 1st that often in recent years (When they have had a 1 rnd pick)., Bennett was not exactly a success.

      This year the Pens have split their games with NSH. MAF got chased from the net in their first meeting (Condon finished the game), then the Pens won the second meeting 4-2 I believe. However, several things make that rather weak to judge this series; 2 games is not a good sample size, playoffs are a different beast all together – the lunacy of the refs cause them to forget the rule book once the playoffs start and they consciously opt to decide the outcome of games with non-calls rather than risk actually calling the game correctly and further handicapping an inferior team, and finally, historically, this years splits are not reflective of the big players splits in head-to-head competetion.

      I am concerned with the fact that the preds were a bottom seed sneaking their way into the playoffs. They have no expectations. This is all gravy for them.

      I am also concerned with Rinne. I worry about a hot goalie. Having said that, the Pens O did treat 2 of the 3 Vezina Trophy Candidates like ugly step-children and if the Preds try and play run and gun with the Pens they will need Rinne. So, I am not going to make any predictions. I can see anything happening here.

      • Jim's Gravatar Jim
        May 28, 2017 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

        Hey Coach,
        I forgot about Ryan Whitney. After we won our cup in 2009, Shero did try to draft as many smaller mobile d man that he could and at the same time trade away many high picks for older stars that failed to win him another cup until last year.
        But whether it was because Nashville played in the bigger and rougher Western Conference or it was the luck of the draft, they always seemed to have gifted d-men and they played a defensive style for many years. Lest we forget for many years the powerful California teams and equally powerful Detroit Red Wings before they switched conferences, were an obstacle we never had to face. So their team was built differently with a more defense first orientation.
        It is only in the past few years that the pendulum has swung back to the East and our division as being the toughest to play in.
        Your points are well taken Coach. As far as wingers go, we have not drafted a real super star winger in the Crosby era. We had to trade for them. I must admit I am excited to see Jake, Byran,Connor, Josh and Tommy develop in this playoff season.I saved the most surprising for the last. 27 year old Rowney !! In the Ottawa series he was a beast. I am counting on him to play the same way in Smashville and he will push a good player out of the line up.
        ( Hornqvist will be back. Who do you sit? )
        Also respectfully my friend with your amazing analytical ability you have already computed every possible out come before we have even dropped the first puck ! You know deep down who will win !!

        * Have another holiday beer or what ever you prefer and SMILE….
        “the Other Rick”…. We finally made it to the finals !! 4 to go !!
        Plus we are playing with about 35 % of our roster from Wilkes Barrie.
        Nobody expected us to get here given all that we went thru this year.
        Except for maybe Phil who if you cut him, he would bleed black and gold…. that is a good trait to have… 🙂

        Happy Memorial Day !

        • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
          May 28, 2017 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

          I am more of a wine connoisseur than beer (Blame my wife, I was a shot and beer man until out honeymoon in Paris, now I am an epicurean, not in philosophical discussions bat at least in matters of food and wine. At this point I have a bottle of an Italian red in me and am contemplating opening its twin).

          I always try to remember nothing is a given and temper my thoughts that way and I still don’t quite have the confidence that I had last year, I know the Pens short comings, but I am smiling at this point. I can see a scenario in which history just might be made.

          Raise a glass to not just the US servicemen but to our Canadian allies for their service in keeping our respective countries free, democratic nations and allies!!

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      May 28, 2017 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

      Hey Jim,

      Really interesting and well-thought take on the different approaches to team building. Obviously, each has its own merits.

      Hard to believe the Preds also had Seth Jones and Shea Weber in the not-too-distant past. Talk about a wealth of defensive riches!

      I just hope our talent at forward trumps Nashville’s skill on ‘d.’


      PS–Not to ask a really dumb question, but does Canada have its own version of Memorial Day?

      • Jim's Gravatar Jim
        May 29, 2017 at 1:21 am | Permalink

        Hi Rick
        I believe you have Memorial Day now and Veterans day in the fall.
        We combine both and have Remberance Day on November 11th.
        Our May holiday is Victoria Day in memory of Queen Victoria 1st and is celebrating on the third week of May. May 22 this year.
        FYI.. My wife is happy to get her husband back because since early April there was hockey every night. Plus watching Edmonton games you could watch Hockey from 7 pm to 3 am for west coast games.
        Now I am going crazy waiting for 8 pm to come.
        Talk soon.
        Enjoy your Holiday.


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