Heading into the Series
The Nashville Predators will arrive in Michigan to play the Detroit Red Wings with both squads owning a 1-1 record over their last two outings. Each team is also coming off of a victory that saw their goaltenders steal the spotlight. Juuse Saros is coming off of a shutout effort that saw him turn away all 41 shots that the Chicago Blackhawks directed his way. Thomas Greiss made the play of the game on Sunday when he blockered away a Steven Stamkos one-timer that kept the Red Wings in front 1-0. Nashville will be motivated while they are in town, as they are in the middle of a battle to make the playoffs. Currently sitting in the fourth spot in the Central Division, they have only 15 contests after this series wraps up. Look for Nashville to attempt to exploit the same weaknesses they did when they swept the Red Wings in their series just two weeks ago. Breaking down the position groups may give us the insight needed to see just how the series will play out.
The Predators have been on a tear as of late winning seven of their last eight games. During this stretch, they have averaged 3.25 goals/game. This is almost an extra goal each game over their full-season average of 2.46. The offensive explosion is surprising, as they have been missing two of their best playmakers in Matt Duchene and Filip Forsberg. In addition, Viktor Arvidsson left Saturday’s contest against Chicago. If Nashville is missing the trio in this series, that could spell trouble for a Nashville team that has been scoring in bunches. The surge of offense can be attributed to the Predators powerplay. In Nashville’s dominant eight-game stretch, they have powerplay goals in five of the games. The team scores by committee as well, as no Nashville player is in the top 50 point producers in the league.
It is no secret that this has been the position group that has struggled the most this season. Even after their five-goal output on Sunday, the Red Wings are still only scoring more G/GP than the Buffalo Sabres. Missing their fourth-leading scorer in Robby Fabbri, and their fifth-leading scorer in Bobby Ryan does not help. The player on offense that Detroit is missing the most right now, Tyler Bertuzzi, has played 25% of the season, yet is still in the top 10 forwards on the team in points. The play with the man advantage can be looked to as the reason for the offensive drought. The production of the powerplay has ranked in the bottom three teams in the league all season. This group faces a tough challenge in this series. If they meet the challenge, that would immensely increase Detroit’s odds.
This deep position group is headed by their captain Roman Josi. Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis also patrol the blue line for the Predators, although Ellis has been hurt since early March. Ekholm earlier this season was viewed as the top defensive target at the trade deadline. The Predators’ surge in the standings has most likely taken Ekholm off of the table. This unit has largely underachieved this season, allowing more high-danger attempts (HDA) than league average. The penalty-kill for Nashville has been an issue, ranking dead last in the league. The Red Wings may be rewarded for taking some risks on the offensive side of the ice. If Detroit can use their legs to draw some penalties, they may be able to generate some much-needed offense.
When this group is executing coach Jeff Blashill’s system, they can control a game. This was on display on Sunday, as we saw minimal high danger chances from a loaded Tampa Bay offense. The interesting thing about this position group is that only Filip Hronek controls the play when on the ice according to their Corsi numbers. Filip Hronek is also the leading scorer for Detroit with 22 points. The penalty kill has been better of late but is still bottom five in the league. They are allowing a goal on every four power play opportunities to their opponents. With the Nashville powerplay being hot recently, playing disciplined, and winning the special teams battle will be crucial to prevail in the series.
Speaking of position groups that have bounced back, the Nashville tandem of Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros have done just that. Saros has been a wall recently, bringing his season’s save percentage (SV%) to 0.928, while posting an 11.8 goals saved above average (GSAA). As a result, Nashville has been riding the hot hand. Saros has started eight of the last eleven games. Rinne has bounced back in his own right, just not as high. Rinne has an even 0.900 SV%, whereas his GSAA is -5.2. With Saros starting the last three contests, I would expect to see Rinne once in this series. Avoiding two straight starts from Saros could be a storyline in this series.
Thomas Greiss has stepped up during Jonathan Bernier’s recent absence. Bernier has been injured since mid-March but has been skating recently. If the Red Wings could gain Bernier back, while Greiss maintains his recent play, Detroit would be competitive most nights. At one time, Greiss owned the worst GSAA in the league. But after allowing only seven goals in four games, he has crawled out of the bottom five, while lifting his SV% to just below 0.900. Greiss was signed in this offseason to be a pseudo-starter for this team. His recent play shows what General Manager Steve Yzerman thought he was getting with the signing.
Series Conclusion and Prediction
Both teams enter this series trending upwards. Nashville seems to have their eyes set on earning a spot for the postseason, whereas the Red Wings are just stringing together solid efforts. I believe that this series will result in a couple of close games that will end up being split. Overtime in each of if not both of the games would not ultimately surprise me. As such, I have the Red Wings pulling away from this series with two points. With the way that Nashville has been playing, this would be a positive outcome for the players dressed in red and white.