PLAYOFFS1

A New Regime of Playoff Hockey in Smashville

There’s no question that the atmosphere in Music City for a Predators playoff game is unmatched. Fans have roughed it the last two seasons but will finally be rewarded tomorrow when Nashville faces off against the hated Chicago Blackhawks.
I can sit here all day and just bash almost every ‘expert’ that has chosen Chicago to take care of the Preds handily and move on to another Stanley Cup, but there’s plenty of time for that. What we here at PredneckNation.com have done is corroborate with fellow blogger Brandon Felder (https://twitter.com/brandon_felder) of the predatorial.com to break down the upcoming first round matchup. You can read his preview here as he answers my three key questions entering the playoffs. If you want details, along with opinions that aren’t sugar-coated, you’ve come to the right place. That said… let’s get on with it!

1: Brandon – “What areas of weakness in Chicago’s game are the Preds most likely to exploit?” Particularly at home, Nashville has enough depth up front to match up well against Chicago’s defense. The Hawks blue-line isn’t nearly up to the caliber of the boys in gold once you get past Keith and Seabrook. Hjalmarsson, Rundblad and Timonen are a few of the names I expect the Preds to take advantage of with their size. As a matter of fact, Seabrook is their only regular dman that exceeds 200 lbs. The question then becomes whether the size of forwards like Wilson and Fisher can contribute on the scoreboard. It’s no secret that the secondary scoring has dried up almost entirely, a huge reason for the team’s struggles late in the year. If the Preds get the depth scoring that has been so crucial during their success, they’ll win the series.

2: Brandon – “Crawford has a Cup. Pekka has been average the past 2 weeks. Which team has the true advantage in net?” Aaaaah… the mystery that is Pekka Rinne’s play of late. What is the cause? Fatigue? Is he still not 100% from his knee sprain? Did Carter Hutton start teaching him how to do an in-game interview? What is it? Every goalie is going to give up a couple iffy goals every now and then, but the system also leaves the team susceptible to counter-attacks, something they have poorly defended the majority of the season. But let’s compare his numbers to 3 seasons ago when the Preds last made the playoffs:

GP W L OL GAA SV%
2011-12 73 43 18 8 2.39 .923
2014-15 64 41 17 6 2.18 .923

Huh…..identical sv% from back then with a better GAA. Anybody have a problem with that? But what did he do in the playoffs you ask? Well….despite the heavy workload, his numbers only got better, posting a 2.07 GAA with a .929 sv%. Yes, Corey Crawford has a Cup… you know who else has his name on Lord Stanley backstopping Chicago? Antti Niemi. I don’t see anyone clamoring over his free agency status going into next season, do you? Crawford is a goalie who tends to make the easy saves look difficult and the difficult ones look easy. He likes to be flashy with his glove, even though at times he’s looked like he has a second waffle-board on his hand. His weakness is mental. If you get in his head and crowd his crease, he gets flustered and you can throw him off his game. Let’s just hope if Gaustad comes within 4 feet of the crease, we don’t have any goals waived off.

3: Brandon – “What can Pred fans expect to be different in the playoffs with Laviolette, as opposed to Trotz?” I preface this with stating very clearly that I think Barry Trotz is one of, if not the most stand-up guy behind an NHL bench. His community work and charities will never be forgotten by those in middle Tennessee. That being said, he just simply got out-coached in the playoffs. Often times, especially home games, he allowed the opposition to dictate who he was putting on the ice, being very reactive instead of proactive. Not to mention even when his team’s appeared to have enough offensive fire-power, they were stuck in neutral. How else do you explain the fact that Rinne gave up 3 goals in the last 3 games vs the Coyotes in the second round, yet somehow took losses in two of those? The team just didn’t put enough pressure on the other team’s blue-line and goaltender.

Enter Laviolette. I’ve wanted Laviolette as coach since last December when it was clear last season’s team was going nowhere. He has history with Poile and is a complete change-up from a defense-first approach, to an ultra-aggressive attack. So how will that translate to the post-season?
For one, Laviolette has a winning post-season record. He took a garbage Islanders team to the playoffs and made them competitive. He won the Stanley Cup with Carolina in his first full season there, while having 21-year old rookie Cam Ward in net (whom he pulled SIX times during their Cup run). Fast-forward to his time in Philadelphia when he took that team to the Cup Final in 2010 with the likes of Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher as his goalies. Did I mention he did that as the 8-seed, while in his first season at the helm (again), AND came back from a 3-0 deficit vs the Bruins in the process? The guy can flat out coach and knows which buttons to push with his teams. So is there a difference between him and Trotz? His resume speaks for itself.

Oh, of course…. how can I be “Moshtradomus” and not give a prediction of the series? Anybody who knows me and has read my posts understands that I’m not a team shill and I tell it like it is. It sure looks like Franson will miss at least game 1 as Volchenkov was skating with Seth Jones as the team’s third D pairing, reuniting Ellis and Ekholm in the process. Despite what Joel Quenneville says about Patrick Kane’s availability being questionable, I fully expect to see him in the line-up tomorrow. That’s about a month ahead of what was projected just a couple weeks ago. The Preds called Kevin Fiala back up but I don’t expect him in there on Wednesday. However, should the team struggle offensively, he’ll be in there in game 2 in an effort to spark the team without question. When it’s all over, I’m calling for Nashville to participate in their first ever game 7, and advance to the next round.
Agree? Disagree? Think I’m an idiot? Whatever…. Feel free to participate in the Twitter-verse discussion during the series. I can assure you that Brandon and I will not shy away from any topics. I hope you guys like this new approach we’re taking to preview this series and I thank Brandon for being open to this idea.

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