The Nashville Predators will battle the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Finals starting on Friday night in Anaheim. This is the Ducks 2nd Conference Finals in the last 3 seasons. The Predators are responsible for bouncing Anaheim out of the playoffs the only two times they have ever met. In 2011, they knocked the Ducks out in Round 1, 4-2 and last season they came back from a 3-2 series deficit to knock the Ducks out of Round 1 again 4-3.
Let’s break down the series:
Nashville has the obvious advantage here. The Preds basically have 4 #1/#1A defensemen in the lineup. At this point in the playoffs 3 of the top 5 point getters for Nashville are on the back end. Ryan Ellis (9) is tied for the lead, with Roman Josi (8) and P.K. Subban (7) right behind. All six guys for Nashville can start offense and are a big part of their transition game. They are also all plus players in the first 10 games of the playoffs. This d-core is finally showing that it may be the best core in the league. At least they are playing like it right now.
Anaheim has some good young up and coming guys on the back end, but they are still unproven. Shea Theodore leads them in points with 7 so far. Only three of the six are currently plus players. Like Nashville, all six can move the puck and get the Ducks started offensively. They will be tested by the quick transition game and the hustle of the Preds. It will be fun to see how they react.
The Predators top line is there driving force. However, they haven’t exactly been on fire in the playoffs. Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson have 22 pts between them, but only 7 goals. Filip Forsberg leads the forwards with 3 goals. This group will have to produce more offense in this series for the Predators to win. While Nashville is deeper up the middle this year, they need their 3 top centers to be more of a force to compete with Anaheim’s center depth. Calle Jarnkrok, Mike Fisher and Johansen have just 3 goals between them. Jarnkrok’s was an empty netter and Fisher still doesn’t have a point. Don’t get me wrong, they have played well as a group. They have been great defensively and in the faceof circle, but they need more from these 3 centers to help those around them produce more as well.
The Ducks forward group has been great this postseason. Most of the scoring has come from just 3 players however. Ryan Getzlaf (8), Jakob Silverberg (7) and Rickard Rakell (6) are pacing the team in goals right now. Even with the big times names like Getzlaf, Silverberg, Rakell and Corey Perry, there is one player the Predators do not want to see in the playoffs right now. That player is Ryan Kesler. Kesler has owned Nashville in the postseason. With Vancouver, in 2011, Kesler had 11pts (5g, 6a) in the series. Last season, he scored 4 more goals. Kesler is great at both ends, which makes him a big hurdle for Nashville. The Ducks have the experience up front to win against anyone. However, they have not played a d-core like this yet in the playoffs. This will be a fun battle to watch.
Pekka Rinne has been all-world this postseason. In 10 games, he currently has a 1.37 GAA and .951 save percentage. This is on par with the tops in a playoff season, ever. Couple the fact that he is stopping everything he sees and the defense in front of him is limiting any high risk chances and you have a recipe for success. Rinne has only allowed more than 2 goals twice so far in the first two series and it was only 3 both times. The number 3 will be a key to this series. If the Predators can score 3 goals in a game, their chances of winning go way up the way Rinne is playing right now. The big Finn seems focused on the goal at hand right now and that is scary for opposing teams.
Anaheim’s goaltending situation is not solid by any stretch. John Gibson has been average, posting a 2.80 GAA and a .908 save percentage, and he has been pulled twice so far. His back up, Johnathan Bernier hasn’t exactly tried to steal the job, posting a 2.82 GAA and a .911 save percentage. Gibson’s play didn’t give the Ducks much hope last season either. The Predators chased him in Game 2 and he never returned to the net. He does not seem any more ready this year, than last. For the Ducks to win this series, they must get better play from between the pipes.
Nashville has been great on the penalty kill so far in the playoffs. Currently they are posting an 87.5 PK%. Their powerplay has been good, but not great. Currently it is clicking at 20 PP%.
Anaheim has struggled both on the powerplay, 13.9 PP% and the penalty kill, 69 PK%.
Special teams could be huge in determining the winner of this series. The Predators have been great at staying out of the box (32 penalties), while Anaheim cannot seem to stay out of the box (58 penalties). As bad as the Ducks penalty kill has been, this could be a chance for the Preds powerplay to really catch fire.
This will be a fun series to watch. Nashville will try to use the extra rest they got after the second round to steal at least one game in Anaheim. They won them both there last time, so hopefully they can repeat that. The biggest worry for Preds fans, (besides Ryan Kesler), should be the physical nature this series is going to take on. Nashville is coming off of a bruising and taxing series with the Blues and having to do it again for what will most likely be a 6 or 7 game series will be tough.
Game one will be Friday at 8pm CT in Anaheim.
Follow me on Twitter at danieljones@dj_puckplanet