The Nashville Predtaors are a team that has been driving stat nerds crazy all season. They are 4th in the West with 104 points despite having the second worst Fenwick close percentage in the league and getting outshot in almost every single game they've played. How can a team that spends so much time in their own zone be good enough to earn the 4th seed in the playoffs? Goaltending and special teams, or at least that's been the case for the Preds this year.
Even though the Red Wings are the lower seeded team, I don't think them winning this series will be surprising to a lot of people. The Wings are easily one of the best teams in the league when it comes to controlling the play and they were lucky enough to draw one of the worst teams in that category in the first round. Does this mean that this series will be easy for them? Not quite. The overall numbers for both team speak for themselves but anything can happen in a seven game series, which should be the Preds motto going into this because a lot of the data doesn't speak in their favor.
The Predators have been riding the percentages all year and this series could be decided by goaltending and special teams, which doesn't really work in their favor because of how intangible those two areas are.
|Team||5v5 FenClose||5v5 Tied||5v5 Shots|
|Team||5v5 Sh%||5v5 Sv%|
|Team||PP Sh%||PK Sv%||PP SF/60||PK SA/60|
Detroit has the advantage in even strength play, and it's not even close. They've been controlling possession at a much stronger rate than Nashville and are one of the strongest teams in the league at puck possession. Like I said earlier, Nashville has been riding the percentages this season and it might come back to bite them in this series because of how quickly percentages can dry up in a short time span.
The Preds even strength shooting percentage is pretty high, but if I were them, I would be a lot more worried about that 16.8% shooting percentage on the powerplay. That is the second highest powerplay shooting percentage since the lockout and I would not count on that keeping up in the long-term. Nashville is much weaker than Detroit at getting shots on net on the powerlpay but Nashville has been striking gold whenever they get an opportunity with the man advantage. Either the Preds are very good at getting into the prime scoring areas, or they are just lucky. Probably a mix of both. Regardless, they have a slight advantage over Detroit on the powerplay so that might give them an edge.
The percentages are going in Nashville's favor on the PK too as they give up a lot of shots but Rinne & Lindback have managed to have a respectiable PK percentage, which is more than I can say for the Wings penalty kill. The Wings are a better team at preventing shots and chacnes, but they've been surrendering a lot more goals. It'll be interesting to see what happens if the percentages get reversed.
The goaltending could easily go both ways but the Red Wings are going to rely on Jimmy Howard a lot less than the Preds will be counting on Pekka Rinne to steal games for them. The Preds are scoring enough to give Rinne some support, but they are still giving up a lot of shots and chances, so that makes Rinne slightly more prone to a blow-up than Howard. Rinne is an elite goalie, though and has gotten the Preds pretty far, so we'll see if he can take the Preds through the first round.
The Preds have a lot of forwards at their disposal, and the additions of Andrei Kostitsyn, Paul Gaustad and Alexander Radulov give them some solid additions to their top nine. Radulov hasn't played much this year, but I would expect him to continue to play in a top-six role since he is a pure goal scorer and will give the Preds an offensive threat that they need badly.
Is this enough to match the Red Wings, though? The Preds have played Detroit well this year so maybe but I don't like their scoring depth over Detroit's. I am interested to see how Fisher, Erat & Sergei Kostitsyn play against one of Datsyuk or Zetterberg's line, since that should be an interesting matchup. Neither of those three forwards are winning the possession battle against tough competition but they are one of the Preds' top offensive units.
The addition of Gaustad should help them a little since he can win face-offs and take tough draws, but he doesn't do much to drive the play. However, what he can do is open up easier ice time and create more favorable matchups for guys like Radulov, Hornqvist, Smith and Bourque.
*Yes, that says "Clary" and not "Cleary"
Babcock likes to match up his top-six against the opponents as Datsyuk & Zetterberg's line are regularly used against tough competition and are dominating territorially despite that. Barry Trotz does a similar things with his forwards so I would expect this to be an interesting matchup, and a favorable one for the Red Wings. Datsyuk, Franzen & Zetterberg have the ability to overpwoer opposing team's defenses and can also light the lamp a bit, too.
Having a top-six that can play well in unfavorable situations can go a long way for the Red Wings because it lets their depth players play easier minutes which allows the Wings to gain some secondary scoring. We've seen that with Dan Cleary and Drew Miller, to a lesser extent.
It's Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and then everyone else, which shouldn't be too much of a surprise. The issue that arises here is that Weber & Suter are probably going to play against the Dastyuk line, which leaves Zetterberg's line open to one of their weaker defense pairings. Although, the Preds did help their defense depth by adding Hal Gill at the deadline, and I this series will be a great test for him. No, Gill isn't going to drive the play at all but if he can at least limit Zetterberg's line then the Preds might be in better shape here.
The Wings defense corps has a solid top-four but I can't help but notice that Kronwall & Stuart's play has diminished a bit this season. They are usually very solid but it appears that they are giving up way too many shots than they usually are. I think both are solid as a second pairing, so the Wings should be fine if they can limit the Preds second line.
It's possible that Stuart and Kronwall will get the tough minutes, but going by the overall data from this year, it looks like Ian White & Nick Lidstrom might draw the Preds first line. Lidstrom's age and health is always a concern but he's played fantastic this year despite that and Ian White has been extremely effective, too. He's also been a very underrated powerplay performer over his career, too so I think that will be a factor. Either way, I think Detroit has the defense corps to keep the Preds offense in check for this series.
I was going to predict the Wings in five, but Scott Reynolds at Copper and Blue brings up a good point that the Wings have dominated against weaker teams, but struggled against those in the playoffs. That's a good point, but I don't think that's enough for me to pick Nashville in this series. After seeing the Avalanche and Ducks make it into the playoffs on the backs of percentages and fail in the first round, I have a hard time believing that the same thing won't happen to Nashville. Pekka Rinne can extend this series to six games but I think the Wings take it then.