Anaheim Ducks vs. Nashville Predators: Puck Daddy’s NHL Playoff Preview

(The 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs are upon us. The good news for NBC: There are no Canadian teams to bring down the ratings. The bad news for Sportsnet: There are no Canadian teams to bring up the ratings. Such is life. Who wins the Cup? Read our insightful and informative playoff previews!) 

How’d They Get Here?

The trials and tribulations of the Anaheim Ducks season are well known. The team’s season should be divided into two parts. Before the Christmas break, the Ducks were 12-15-6, and everyone was anxiously awaiting Bruce Boudreau’s pink slip. After the Christmas break, the team went 34-10-5 which included an 11 game winning streak. Anaheim went from worst to first to take the Pacific Division crown.

The previous season, the first for head coach Peter Laviolette behind the bench for the Nashville Predators, the team got the predicted bump into second place in the Central. Lavy’s second year wasn’t so easy. The team got off to a strong 6-1-2 start in the month of October, but from there, the team was inconsistent. They managed to pick up points in 14 games that ultimately went as losses in overtime. In a highly competitive Central, the Preds finished the season strong collecting a 17-9-6 record in February – April. Nashville sat comfortably in the first Wild Card position with 96 points (and a playoff team low 37 ROW) waiting for the other teams to finalize their positions.

In the regular season, the Ducks and Preds played on Oct. 22, Nov. 1, and Nov. 17 with Nashville taking the season series 2-1. When Nashville saw the Ducks last, they were struggling mightily, and that’s not the team they’re about to face.

Their Last Playoff Meeting

It was a historic one for the Predators. Drawing the Ducks in the first round, Nashville won their first ever playoff series in franchise history in six games.

While that is a memorable moment for Preds fans, Ducks fans remember the series as the one where they lost Bobby Ryan for two games due to a suspension for stomping on the skate of Jonathon Blum.

Schedule

Friday, April 15 at 10:30pm ET | NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports

Sunday, April 17 at 10:30pm ET | NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports

Tuesday, April 19 at 9:30pm ET | USA, Sportsnet 360, TVA Sports 2

Thursday, April 21 at 8:00pm ET | CNBC, FX-Canada, TVA Sports 3

*Saturday, April 23 at TBD

*Monday April 25 at TBD

*Wednesday, April 27 at TBD

Offense

Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry had excruciatingly slow starts to their offensive games; thereby exposing the Ducks lack of scoring depth who had stepped up in years past. The Christmas miracle turnaround was further spurred on by the trade of Carl Hagelin for David Perron.

Of Getzlaf’s 63 points on the season, 27 of them came between Perron’s first game with the team and his last on March 20 when he separated his shoulder. Per the Ducks, Perron appears to be ahead of schedule and is “very” probable to see Game 1.

The success of Getzlaf with Perron allowed for Bruce Boudreau to separate Getzlaf and Perry. Playing alongside Rickard Rakell – who had a career best 43 point season – Perry achieved his sixth 30-plus goal campaign of his career. Rakell missed the better part of the final two weeks of the season after his appendix burst. He, like Perron, is expected to return for Game 1.

When Perry and Getzlaf were  together, they had found a rhythm with Brandon Pirri (5 points in 9 games since trade to Anaheim), but he has been out with a concussion since April 1. For now, it’s Jamie McGinn (12 points in 21 games since being acquired), Chris Stewart (20 points), or Ryan Garbutt (8 points).

Ryan Kesler had his best offensive season since 2010-11 with 21 goals and 32 assists. Unlike most of the forward lines of the Ducks, his with Jakob Silfverberg and Andrew Cogliano has been kept together a majority of the year. Silfverberg reached 20 goals after scoring 11 of those goals in the final 15 games of the season. Cogliano bested his previous year scoring total with 32 points.

Boudreau has kept the formula of one offensive-defenseman with a stay at home d-man largely the entire season. Sami Vatanen leads all defensemen in points with 38; of those points, 24 have come on the power play. Behind him are Cam Fowler and Hampus Lindholm with 28 points each, and like Vatanen, most of their points came from the power play.

The Predators boast a healthy mix of defensemen (4) and forwards (6) in their top 10 scorers and are blessed with depth scoring.

Forward Filip Forsberg and defenseman Roman Josi each hit the 60-plus scoring plateau. It is the second time for Forsberg to reach the mark, and the first time he eclipsed 30 goals in his young career. Josi continues to hold the top offensive d-man spot earning a career best 61 points and 47 assists.

Nashville boasts three 50-plus point scorers: James Neal (58), Shea Weber (51), and Mike Ribeiro (50). In addition to five skaters with 30-plus points: Craig Smith (37), Mattias Ekholm (35), Ryan Johansen (34 since coming to the Preds), Ryan Ellis (32), and Calle Jarnkrok (30).

Neal is second behind Forsberg on the team with 31 goals. He appears to have clicked with Johansen who came over midseason in the deal that sent Seth Jones to Columbus. Between the Blue Jackets and Nashville, Johansen had a 60 point season overall.

Playing against the Ducks might just be what Ribeiro needs to jumpstart his offense. He ended the season with 3 points in 14 games; however, in his career against Anaheim he has 56 points in 53 games played.

To no one’s surprise, Weber is the leader in power play goals (14) and points (26). His devastating slapshot from the point is every goaltender’s nightmare. Right behind him is is Josi with 24 power play points and Forsberg with 23.

Advantage: Ducks.

Defense

One of the strongest points of the Ducks turnaround was embracing the defensive side of their game. At the end of the season, Anaheim accrued the fewest goals against (188), and the fewest goals against average (2.29), leading to the first Jennings Trophy win in franchise history.

All signs point to John Gibson starting in net for Anaheim to start the series. Gibson amassed a 21-13-4 record with four shutouts. He had a .920 save-percentage, and was second in the league in goals against average at 2.07.

Andersen was the No. 1 to start the year, but ended up in a Dynamic Duo role with Gibson’s emergence. He suffered a concussion on March 30 and did not play again until the season finale against Washington on April 10. Andersen’s numbers were solid on the season 22-9-7 with 2.30 GAA and .919 SV%.

In front of the two netminders are young defensemen with six of them 24 years of age or younger. For score adjusted 5 on 5, Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson are the highest two positive possession players (from War-on-Ice) on defense for either team.

The forwards were led by the shutdown line of Kesler, Silfverberg, and Cogliano. Kesler could find himself with a Selke nomination after completing the season coming in second overall in faceoff percentage at 58.5%. According to Corsica’s CF%QoC, the three regularly faced the opposition’s top lines.

Nashville finished No. 14 in goals against at 213 total. They were No. 1 in the league allowing the fewest shots against per game at 27.3.

The unquestioned No. 1 netminder, Pekka Rinne, didn’t have the best season as compared to previous seasons. He finished with a 34-21-10 record, 2.48 goals against, and .908 save-percentage.

According to War-on-Ice, the leader in score adjusted CF% at 5 on 5 is none other than … Barrett Jackman (remember, he’s on Nashville now). As for the Preds, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm follow Jackman’s possession numbers in the mid-50s.

Ribeiro, Smith, and Forsberg lead the forwards in score adjusted puck possession stats at 5 on 5; however, according to Corsica, their 5 on 5 CF% quality of competition appears to be lower than their own.

Advantage: Ducks

Special Teams

The Ducks come into the series with the No. 1 power play (23.1%) and No. 1 penalty kill (87.2%); the last team to accomplish this feat was the 1984-85 New York Islanders.

Anaheim’s power play has scored power play goals in 19 of its last 28 games where they had the man advantage. They have received the ninth fewest opportunities with the extra man (242). The Ducks penalty kill has to be good because they are the second most penalized team in the league at 290 times short handed. 

Nashville has the No. 10 power play (19.7%) and No. 16 penalty kill (81.2%). 

The Predator’s power play scored 51 power play goals on 259 opportunities. They are just slightly better at home (20.1%) than on the road (19.2%). As for the PK, the Preds are the eighth least penalized team at home with 116 but hold one of the lowest success rates (79.3%); however, on the road, they’re the still in the bottom ten of penalized teams, but are more successful away from Smashville at 82.9%.

Advantage: Ducks

Coaching

Everyone knows that Bruce Boudreau is an outstanding regular season coach; however, his playoff record is terrifyingly shaky. His Ducks teams have hit the Game 7 mark each of the last three seasons before choking. He almost lost his job after the playoffs last season. What kind of message is Bob Murray sending him before the games even start?

Peter Laviolette has plenty of playoff experience that Boudreau doesn’t have; namely, a visit to the 2010 Stanley Cup Final with Philadelphia and a Stanley Cup win 2006 with Carolina. Lavy has had the success it feels like Bruce should have had by now.

Advantage: Predators.

Five Key Questions

1. If John Gibson is going to start the series for the Ducks, how long is his leash? 

2. How just how healthy are the Ducks?

3. Which Predators team is going to show up? 

4. Can Pekka Rinne handle the onslaught of Ducks shots and net contact?

5. Who is going to stop – or at least contain – Shea Weber and Roman Josi on the Ducks defense?

Best Fantasy Options

Jakob Silfverberg, Anaheim Ducks. The forward is a member of the Ducks shutdown line with Ryan Kesler and Andrew Cogliano. This second line plays in all situations for the team, and are who Boudreau trusts the most on the ice.

James Neal, Nashville Predators. Neal in his career against Anaheim is 15 points in 21 games. He loves to get into it and get physical, without it majority impacting his scoring totals (as long as he doesn’t get kicked out of the game for something stupid.)

Prediction

Ducks in 6. Nothing short of a brilliant performance by Rinne (or a complete meltdown of the Ducks goaltenders) will win this series for the Predators. Look for their home crowd in Smashville to play a big part in distracting the Ducks on the road for at least the first game there.

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