Round 2: The St. Louis Blues
The Nashville Predators will face off against the St. Louis Blues in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs starting on Wednesday night. The Predators advanced after sweeping the Chicago Blackhawks 4-0 and the Blues moved on after beating the Minnesota Wild 4-1. During the regular season the Predators won 3 of 5 games against St. Louis however, the teams only played one time after the coaching change from Ken Hitchcock to Mike Yeo. Both teams are playing very good hockey since then, so this series should be a fun one.
Both teams are pretty evenly matched just looking at the numbers. Nashville finished the season 11th in goals for and St. Louis was 12th. Nashville finished at 16th in goals against, while St. Louis was 18th. So far in the playoffs, Nashville is the better scoring team, potting 13 goals in 4 games for an average of 3.25 per game, while St. Louis scored 11 in 5 games, for a 2.20 average. Both teams have been stellar defensively. The Predators are averaging 0.75 goals per game and the Blues are at 1.20.
In round 1 the Preds used a very well played defensive system and timely counter-attack to beat the Blackhawks. Many times during this series they appeared to be the faster and better team. While St. Louis relied heavily on a hot goaltender to beat the Wild. In the series, the Blues were outshot 182-134 including being outshot 52-26 in game one and still winning in OT. It is going to be interesting to see how the Blues will handle the speed of the Predators and conversely how the Predators handle the size of the Blues.
Here are a few keys for the Predators that can help lift them over the Blues in this series.
#1 – Once again Pekka Rinne will be huge in the Predators quest to move on to the next round. Goaltending will be an interesting battle in this series as both keepers have been hot. Pekka Rinne led everyone in round 1 with a GAA of 0.70 and a save percentage of
#2 – The JOFA line will need to continue the strong play. They were the best line for Nashville in the regular season. They continued that in the Chicago series scoring 5 goals and 15 pts amongst them. This line has been a catalyst for this team this year and in the last round. When they are going everyone seems to pick up their game. Just a little mention here, Colin Wilson looks to be back in this series and he seems to always be a difference maker this time of year. If Wilson continues that kind of playoff play it will really force the Blues to spread out who they cover, which will only help the JOFA line. Hopefully we will get to see more of this:
#3 – Force St. Louis to play the way you want them to. It will not be easy to do, but if you can win some board battles and get St. Louis chasing your counter attack game this could be a short series. On the flip side, if the Blues are able to keep the Preds from exiting the zone quickly and work them along the wall, then it will play right into their hands. The interesting thing to watch will be how Peter Laviolette deploys his lines to combat this.
Once again, I will not pick a winner in this series, but something still feels different about this Predator team than past seasons. They seemed to be very goal oriented and focused on the task at hand. This series will probably be much slower than then last, but it will still be a fun back and forth to watch the two competing styles of play going head to head.
Let me know your thoughts, predictions or what you may believe the keys to the series to be!
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