The Nashville Predators drew the Anaheim Ducks for the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.
The way the Ducks were playing the first month and a half of the regular season, people were thinking that head coach Bruce Boudreau would be fired. Boudreau wasn’t fired and the Ducks turned things around to win the Pacific Division. In the final 56 games, Anaheim was 34-14-6 and racked up 78 points, while only having a record of 8-11-5 (21 points) in its first 24 games. The Predators had its struggles this season, but fought through them to make the playoffs. Nashville was 24-18-8 with 56 points through 50 games played before the All-Star Break, and went 17-8-6 with 40 points in the final two months of the season.
The Preds enter the postseason relatively healthy, while the late start to the series has helped the Ducks get healthy. Rickard Rakell and David Perron were able to use the time to rest up and practice. They will be in the lineup for game one, while Kevin Bieksa could start the series on the ice or in the pressbox. Bieksa is a game time decision, according to the team’s Twitter account.
Anaheim could barely score to start the season, but finished in the middle of the pack, averaging 2.62 goals for per game played on the season. Six Ducks had ten or more goals with more than one line pitching in on the offensive side of things. Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler lead the way on offense for the Ducks, but Rakell had a breakout season (20 goals, 23 assists and 43 points). Rakell will be the player the Predators will need to pay attention to in this series. Nashville had eight players score ten or more goals including two score 30 or more. The offense is led to Filip Forsberg and James Neal, but they will need the contributions from all of its players and balanced scoring if they want to win this series. Ryan Johansen could be a difference maker for Nashville on offense.
Nashville could possibly have the deepest defensive corps in the entire NHL, which is led by Shea Weber and Roman Josi. The Preds defensemen aren’t afraid to join the rush and be aggressive in the offensive zone, but they also have some stay-at-home guys. Josi finished the season with 61 points, which set a record for most points by a Predators’ defenseman in a season. The defense will be the x-factor for Nashville in both their own end and the offensive zone. Anaheim has a solid blueline in front of its goalies led by Kevin Bieksa and Sami Vatanen. The Ducks blue liners are mobile and can be physical, if needed. Anaheim gave up the fewest goals against in the league and the goalies, Anaheim’s x-factor in this series, had a lot to do with that.
John Gibson and Frederick Andersen split the season in goal, and when one was injured, the other stepped up and filled in nicely. Gibson was 21-13-4 in 40 games with a 2.07 goals against average, .920 save percentage and had four shutouts. Andersen made an appearance in 43 games going 22-9-7 with a 2.30 goals against average, .919 save percentage and three shutouts. Pekka Rinne had a decent season for the Predators even with his struggles. He was 34-21-10 in 66 games with a 2.48 goals against average, .908 save percentage and four shutouts. Rinne will need to be sharp especially with his rebound control since Anaheim will have guys looking for the loose pucks in the crease area.
The special teams edge clearly goes to the Ducks since they had the best power play and penalty kill in the league this year. The Predators had the 10th best power play and the 16th best penalty kill. Nashville needs to play a disciplined game and stay out of the penalty box if they want to make this a long series. The Preds power play will need to find a way to capitalize on its opportunities when given the chance.
The Ducks goaltending will come up big when called upon, but the Predators will find a way to keep this a series. Anaheim still wins the series in six games.