Earlier today we gave you the breakdown of the Anaheim Ducks and Nashville Predators and predicted who will win. It’s time to look at five big questions facing the two teams in the Western Conference Final.
1– Who wins the battle of Ryan versus the Ryans?
The Nashville Predators brought in Ryan Johansen for situations just like the one they’re about to face. The Anaheim Ducks have a two-headed snarling, half-bald monster at center with Ryan Kesler and Ryan Getzlaf. A duo Johansen became acquainted with last post-season.
In the three meetings between the two during the regular season, match-intensive coach Randy Carlyle opted to roll out the Kesler line whenever Johansen hit the ice. Since Kesler is the pre-eminent shut-down center for Anaheim, it’s not a stretch to assume Carlyle will put Kesler on the ice against Johansen whenever possible.
Kesler battled all last series with Connor McDavid. No player matches the talent of McDavid, but that’s not to say Johansen will be a walk in the park for the Ducks center. Johansen is a big kid that has become quite the playmaker for Nashville, leading the Preds in assists during the regular season (47) and currently in the playoffs (7).
Should Johansen manage to get away from Kesler, he’ll be left to go head-to-(bald) head with Ryan Getzlaf. With Johansen at 6-foot-3, 218-pounds and Getzlaf 6-foot-4, 221-pounds, it’s a heavyweight fight waiting to happen.
Carlyle will likely want to get Getzlaf out against Mike Fisher. Through ten games, the Preds captain has zero points, and is on the ice for the second most faceoffs behind Johansen. Getzlaf has struggled on the dot, so it’s conceivable Fisher will go against Antoine Vermette on the draw and then Getzlaf during play. Getzlaf is playing out of his mind right now and will be a handful to deal with.
2– Can John Gibson stand the pressure?
Among the ten goaltenders that have been in net for at least 400 minutes in the playoffs, Ducks goaltender John Gibson sits last in goals against average (2.80) and save-percentage (.908). By comparison, Pekka Rinne is first with 1.37 GAA and .951 save-percentage.
In the first round series against Nashville last season, Gibson was elected to start over Frederik Andersen in the first two games at home in Anaheim. The team dropped both games and Andersen took over for the remainder of the series, which the Ducks lost, and Bruce Boudreau lost his job.
Gibson has had good games during the playoffs, but is considerably more inconsistent than Rinne. He’s prone to flukey goals and slow starts. If the Preds can get him moving side to side with quick passes in front, they’ll have an easier chance to beat him.
3– Which offensive-defensemen will chip in more?
The Ducks tend to let their forwards do most of the scoring while the Preds have leaned more on their offensive-defensemen; however, both the Predators and Ducks defenses have scored 27 points each in the playoffs.
Those 27 points are spread over four Nashville defensemen. Ryan Ellis is tied with Johansen in team scoring at nine-points. Ellis and Roman Josi are tied for the team lead in goals with four each. P.K. Subban (7 points) and Mattias Ekholm (3 points) round out the scorers on the blueline. Yannick Weber and Matt Irwin have yet to register a point; however they play, on average, approximately 12 minutes less per game than the top four. Subban, Josi, and Ellis have eight of the team’s 14 power play points.
As for the 27 points scored by the Ducks, it’s spread over seven defensemen. Rookie Shea Theodore leads with seven points; however, five of his points came in the first series against Calgary. Cam Fowler and rookie Brandon Montour are next with five points. Only Theodore and Fowler have registered points on the power play. The Ducks are without Kevin Bieksa (for now), who had four points in five games before sustaining an injury. Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson and Sami Vatanen have combined for six points.
4– Will the Ducks penalty kill continue to be a dumpster fire?
Anaheim’s penalty kill is epically terrible. It’s almost amazing they’ve gotten this far in the playoffs considering they’re one of the most penalized teams in the postseason. The Ducks went from an 84.7-percent clip in the regular season to 69-percent (nice) during the playoffs.
Calgary scored at least one power play goal on the Ducks in every single game of the series with the most coming in Game 3 where the Flames scored three power play goals against. Edmonton capitalized on the power play in five out of seven games, scoring two power play goals against in two games.
‘Regression’ this is not. They downright suck.
Nashville’s power play doesn’t draw many opportunities to work. They’ve been shorthanded 25 times, scoring five power play goals for a 20-percent success rate. That might be the only saving grace for Anaheim, as long as they stay disciplined, and for them, that’s difficult to do.
5– Are these the real Predators?
Before the start of the season, a lot of people (this author included) picked the Nashville Predators to go to the Stanley Cup Final, if not win it all. Defense wins championships, right?
The Predators floundered at times during the regular season that made people wonder what the problem was. Apparently the problem was the regular season itself. Despite rolling into the playoffs as a Wild Card, they swept the Chicago Blackhawks and stifled the St. Louis Blues. Now the Preds are in their first ever Western Conference Final. The team is confident and the city is jacked.
Anaheim just got over the mental hurdle of Game 7, and now they face a new psychological battle. Each time the Ducks and Preds have met in the post-season, Nashville has defeated Anaheim, and created a new franchise best for the Preds.
When the Predators defeated the Ducks in 2011, it was the first time Nashville moved on to the second round. Last postseason, Nashville defeated the Ducks (in Anaheim, of course) to win their first ever Game 7.
The only thing that might play to the Ducks advantage is that pretty much no one is picking them to win the series. Can’t disappoint anyone if they didn’t think they didn’t think you could do anything in the first place.