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Hockey Thoughts A Brewin’: Predators Are Playing An Unsustainable Style



Photo of Kiefer Sherwood, left, courtesy of the Nashville Predators

The Nashville Predators had one mission when they crossed the border into British Columbia for Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs: steal one game to return home with a tied series.

Mission accomplished.

Fortunately for the Predators, there are no style points in hockey, especially the postseason where every win counts all the same.

Those closest to the team, and its fans, likely would have gladly accepted a 1-1 series tie as the Predators welcome the Vancouver Canucks to Bridgestone Arena on Friday night for Game 3. But how they got there wasn’t pretty.

While there appeared to be moments of the 18-game point streak version of the Predators, Vancouver’s overwhelming speed and physicality was evident to even the casual observer. The Predators would presumably never admit it, but they seemed to be caught off guard at times in the first two games.

PDO, which calculates save percentage plus shooting percentage with the average being 100, is a strong tool to use to gauge puck luck.

From an analytical perspective, the Predators had a Game 1 PDO of 89.6 (83.33 + 6.25) during 5-on-5, which essentially means they were unlucky with a few errors. I would largely agree with that assessment.

The Predators managed to find themselves with the lead at roughly the midway point of the third period before suffering mental lapses defensively that changed a 2-1 lead to a 3-2 deficit over the course of 12 seconds. 

Game 2 was the opposite. Nashville had a PDO of 122.9 during 5-on-5 (30 + 92.86) — a winning combination of everything from finding the back of the net, an Anthony Beauvillier deflection, Colton Sissons crashing the net, and the usual Filip Forsberg timely goal after his absentee Game 1 performance.

These numbers are far from painting the entire picture, but they capture the state of affairs through two games quite fully with further underlying numbers in support.

Another analytical tool that’s quite useful is goals saved above expected. In Game 1, Juuse Saros recorded a -0.27 goals-saved above expected (he’s likely still wishing he had back that first goal from Elias Lindholm).

On the contrary, he was far better in Game 2 with 2.16 goals saved above expected, which is an official game steal for Saros with the score being 3-1 prior to Nashville’s empty-net goal.

At practice on Thursday, head coach Andrew Brunette expressed that the Predators are committed to the pain of a grueling series.

“I think it’s going to hurt, and we’re willing to pay the price to feel it and go forward,” he said.

He’s not wrong. The Predators received their fair share of hits (47) and blocked an unprecedented amount of shots (30) in Game 2 alone. Limited Vancouver to 21 shots in Game 1 with 14 blocked shots, plus 18 shots in Game 2 with 30 more blocked may lead one to believe the Predators put forth a strong defensive performance in both games, which, of course, cannot be denied to some degree.

But it’s only a matter of time before the Canucks’ desperation and relentless style of attack breaches the Predators’ defensive wall and makes it perhaps too painful to sustain.

Gutting out the pain was certainly part of the Predators Game 2 victory, but it’s a pain that’s unsustainable if changes are not made to get back to playing the fast-paced, puck-possession style of play.

“It’s patience, not trying to force the issue, not trying to be something we’re not [during Game 3],” Brunette said. “You know, especially at home sometimes you can get carried away trying to be more than we are, so I think for us, it’s just staying to our identify to who we are and putting our best foot forward. I think the effort has been amazing the first two games.”

“I think we learned a little, a good lesson, develop momentum and just, you know, when we have it just evaluate it and continue to play the right way and not give [the Canucks] a sniff,” Kiefer Sherwood told Nashville Hockey Now. “We saw how quickly it turned in Game 1.”

But that patience has to start with knowing when and where to be patient.

Both the Predators and Canucks play a similar type of game. Vancouver’s size and speed seemed to be a bit overpowering at times during the first two outings.

The Canucks are one of the best first-period teams in the NHL, but the Predators have kept them off the scoresheet through both games this series. That’s certainly the goal again in Game 3 while also seeking to dictate the pace and get back to their game.

“They’re doing a really good job,” Brunette said of the Canucks. “They’re trying to do what we’re trying to do to them, and we’re just not putting pucks in areas that give us an opportunity to get it back. Probably not quite hard enough, sustainable enough in the offensive zone on pucks.”

It would behoove the Predators to control the game as opposed to responding to the game as they did in Vancouver. Of course, there were moments of brilliance for Nashville, but to win this series, the game has to be taken to the Canucks, not the reverse.

“We can have the puck a little bit more, kind of get to our game through the neutral zone and to our forecheck,” Brunette added. “We really hadn’t sustained offensive zone time that often in Game 2. There’s all kinds of variables. … I thought we did a good job of closing the game out. But a little bit more on our toes here of the next game.”

Sherwood agreed, stating the Predators must better control possession to truly control a game, and to a higher degree, the series.

“We value the puck and possession, so I think make a couple adjustments and play a bit more with the puck and then give ourself a better chance of playing in the offensive zone,” Sherwood said. “We probably took on a little water in the third [period of Game 2]. That’s just a credit to our resiliency. Just finding ways [to win].”

In order to be successful and win this series, the Predators have to return to their game, control the puck and dictate the tempo.

It’s one thing to commit to the pain, but it’s quite another to be at the mercy of your opponent and hoping for some fortunate puck luck.

Game 3 of the series starts Friday night at 6:30 p.m. CT at Bridgestone Arena.

PDO stats courtesy of naturalstattrick. Goaltending data courtesy of MoneyPuck.

Follow Clay Brewer on Twitter/X: @ClayBrewer10

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