The Nashville Predators are in some unfamiliar territory as they begin their first ever Western Conference Finals on Friday night. One thing  that won’t be unfamiliar is their opponent. This marks the third time the Preds have taken on the Ducks in the postseason since 2011. The most recent was in last year’s opening round when the Predators won a back and forth series where the Preds won their first ever Game 7. The first was in 2011 when they defeated Anaheim in six games to advance to the second round for the first time in franchise history. Another win against the Ducks would mark more franchise history for the Predators.

Anaheim Ducks (Def. Calgary 4-0; Def. Edmonton 4-3)

Playoff Stats
GF/G: 3.18 (2nd)
GA/G: 3.00 (12th)
PP: 13.9% (14th)
PK: 69.0% (15th, also..nice)

Players To Watch

Ryan Getzlaf: No hairline. In fact, he is bald and looks like he should be playing in an over-40 league at some rural rink. Unfortunately, he does not play that way. He has 15 points in the Ducks’ 11 playoff games this year. Outside of the Senators’ Erik Karlsson, he has been the hottest player in these playoffs. More than once, he willed the Ducks to victory over the Oilers in the second round. He is big and physical, but he has great passing and shooting ability. Oh yeah, he’s also kind of a douche.

Corey Perry: While Perry was still his usual punk ass self in the regular season, he wasn’t his normal self statistically. He scored 19 goals this year, which marks the first time since 2006-2007 that he didn’t hit the 20 goal mark, lockout shortened season not included. Despite his offensive struggles, he still has 9 points in 11 games. Most of those come via the assist. He can’t find the back of the net, but he’s still contributing for Anaheim. That said, I still don’t want him to get loose in the offensive end. He could find his old form at any moment. Also, boo this man.

Rickard Rakell: Missed the first few games due to a contract dispute. What is this? The NFL? Get out there and play, ya prima donna. Rakell has had a bit of a breakout season. Well, as much of a breakout season as you can have when you play most of your games at 10 o’clock EST. Regardless, Rakell scored 33 goals in the regular season and has six more in the playoffs so far. He uses his speed and skill to beat even the best defenses. He will draw a lot of attention from Laviolette and his staff.

Ryan Kesler: Has a nose that weighs as much as the rest of his face. Card carrying member of the Anaheim Dive Club. Ryan Kesler is very easy to hate, but that doesn’t change the fact that he is a one of, if not the best, two way center in the NHL. Kesler beats you with his offense and he beats you with his defense. Kesler’s game isn’t fancy, but he works his tail off and is always in position. He’s one of the smartest veterans in the league, but that doesn’t mean you can’t hate him.

Cam Fowler: I like Fowler so I don’t have much bad to say about him. It is fun that the player with the word “fowl” in his name plays for the Ducks. Isn’t that fun? Anyways, Fowler is an extremely skilled two way defenseman. He missed the first round with an injury, but he had a goal and four assists against the Oilers in this latest round. He is the best defenseman Anaheim has, and the Predators will have to make sure they have tabs on him in their defensive zone.

Shea Theodore: Has two first names. Theodore really stepped up in the absence of Cam Fowler in these playoffs. Despite spending a good chunk of the 2016-2017 season with Anaheim’s AHL affiliate, the San Diego Gulls, the young defenseman has played his best when the lights are brightest. His seven points lead Duck defensemen in the playoffs.

John Gibson: Drew the short straw and had to stay in Anaheim while Freddie Andersen go o go play for Mike Babcock and with Auston Matthews in Toronto. Of the starting goalies in the second round, John Gibson was the worst for sure. He has been a little leaky in these playoffs as he’s posted a 2.80 GAA and a .908 Save %. Nashville needs to get pucks to the net early and often to test him.

The Offense

Anaheim’s offense has carried them this postseason. They are averaging 3.18 goals for per game in this postseason, which is 2nd among the sixteen teams that qualified. Ryan Getzlaf has been the cog that has made that machine go. For instance, in Game 4 of their series against the Oilers, the Ducks trailed 2-0 after the 1st period. By the end of the 2nd, they led 3-2 on the strength of his two goals and one assist. As Getzlaf go, so do the Ducks. Shut him down, and the series tilts heavily in Nashville’s favor.

That’s not to say they can’ score without him. The Ducks have some of the best forward depth in the league. Jakob Silfverberg has played on the third line at times this postseason, but still is second on the team in playoffs scoring with 11 points. Randy Carlyle has mixed up his lines a decent bit, so it is a little hard to lock down exact trios. Getzlaf and Rakell have played together very frequently. My gut tells me that’s who Laviolette will want to deploy Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis against. The one line that has stayed together throughout the playoffs has been Ryan Kesler centering Andrew Cogliano and Silfverberg. That line will be an handful so I’d guess Ekholm and Subban will draw that assignment. Their 3rd line has varied as well, but normally it has been Antoine Vermette between Nick Ritchie and *insert other winger here*. Patrick Eaves, who came out of nowhere with a great offensive season, has missed the last four games with a lower body injury. He could return for Game 1 against Nashville, and if he does that gives Anaheim’s top 9 a huge boost.

How has Anaheim had so much offensive success these playoffs? They aren’t afraid to get to the front of the net.

hockeyviz.com

The two charts above show shots in the “house” by Anaheim in two separate games against the Oilers. All four lines get there. Everyone from Getzlaf to Kesler to Rakell and Perry. It’s a team effort to get into the high danger areas for Anaheim. If Nashville can’t do a better job of keeping them out of the slot than Edmonton, it will be extremely hard for the Preds to advance.

The Defense

Anaheim’s defense has had a rough go it at times in the playoffs. They have given up three goals per game, which is 12th of the 16 teams that made the postseason. The only four teams worse than them have already been eliminated. Unlike the Blues, the Ducks don’t have a forest of a defense corps. Despite their smaller size, they still have plenty of talent. The top “shut down” pairing of Brandon Montour and Hampus Lindholm will get matched up with the Jofa Line pretty frequently, but that’s a matchup I don’t think the Predators mind. The Ducks’ second pairing of Cam Fowler and Sami Vatanen presents a more interesting challenge. They are both good skaters and can chip in a little more on offense. Granted, they aren’t as air tight defensively so Nashville needs to forecheck these two aggressively. Shea Theodore and Josh Manson will probably round out their six defensemen. Theodore has really stepped up in these playoffs so that’s a tougher challenge than usual from a bottom pairing.

The Ducks offense has gotten into the slot, but their defense has returned the favor to their opponents’. That probably explains the 3.00 goals against per game when your opponent’s shot charts look like this.

hockeyviz.com
hockeyviz.com

Nashville struggled to get to these areas against the Blues last series, but it looks like they may have less resistance against Anaheim. Forsberg, Arvidsson, Neal, and others may have a real opportunity to get going if the Ducks can’t make the proper adjustments in their own zone.

The Goaltending

This is the area the Predators have the biggest advantage. John Gibson has had a very up and down postseason. His lowest point was in Game 6 against the Oilers when he was pulled in the 1st period after giving up 3 goals on 6 shots. His best game probably came the following game. In Game 7, he held the Oilers high flying offense to one goal to push the Ducks into the Conference Finals. When Gibson is on, he’s really on. When he’s off, well… he’s very beatable. With the way Nashville’s defense and Pekka Rinne has played, he can’t afford a couple more stinkers like he had in the Oilers series.

Jonathan Bernier is their backup, and Randy Carlyle can turn to him if Gibson can’t get the job done. Granted, he hasn’t performed much better in his limited appearances in these playoffs.

Special Teams

Despite the plethora of weapons the Ducks have at their disposal, their power play has been dismal thus far. In 11 playoff games, they have only converted on 13.9% of their man advantages. Nashville’s penalty kill has been very good. So again, I like this matchup for the Preds.

The Ducks’ penalty kill has killed off only 69.0% (nice) of the power plays they have faced. The Predators have been a little up and down on the power play, but they have still managed to score on 20% of them.

Prediction

Anaheim certainly has the offensive advantage in my eyes, but Pekka Rinne and the way the Preds have played defensively makes me think that they can handle the Ducks’ offensive firepower and slow them down a little. Defensively, in net, and on special teams I think that it’s clear Nashville has been the better team this postseason.

Nashville continues to better team and advances to the Stanley Cup Final in *GULP* five games.

Other Predictions:

Penguins in 7

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