There’s still one series left to get underway! The Anaheim Ducks and Nashville Predators will get things started tonight after watching playoff hockey from the comfort of their own living rooms the last couple days. Anaheim has been one of the hottest teams in the league since shaking off after that dreadful start to the season, while the Predators are looking to get themselves out of the first round for just the third time in franchise history after another solid season.
The Ducks and Predators played each other five times this season, but all of those games came back before the end of November, so it’s difficult to tell whether they’re an accurate representation of how these teams match up. Regardless, the Preds won two of the games, but it’s important to remember this was back in a time when the Ducks were struggling mightily, and there was rhetoric being tossed around that they weren’t even going to make the playoffs.
Their first game came back on Oct. 22. I think this was the point when people were really starting to worry about the Ducks. They were 1-3-1, struggling to score goals, and the Predators thumped them 5-1 despite the fact that they shots and possession game was pretty much split down the middle.
The struggled continued for the Ducks for a while after that game, in fact, they went on a losing streak until they played the Predators again on Nov. 1 in Anaheim. Despite being outplayed heavily, Frederik Andersen stole the game for the Ducks, stopping 40 of 42 shots he faced to squeeze out a 4-2 victory. It was only Anaheim’s second win of the season.
Their final matchup was a couple weeks later on Nov. 17 in Nashville. The Ducks had started to pull themselves together and improved their record to 6-9-4 with a modest winning streak. This game was basically the opposite of the previous one, as Pekka Rinne was peppered with shots, but stopped 38 of the 40 he faced, helping the Preds, who only managed 21 shots of their own, to a 3-2 victory.
So overall, the Predators won the season series 2-1, both teams had a game in which they heavily outplayed the other and came out empty-handed, and Nashville won the one game that was evenly matched.
This series features a matchup of two of the best possession teams in hockey. The Ducks and Predators each finished the season with a 52.5 Corsi For percentage at even strength, which puts them in a tie for fourth in that metric the league. Taking that a step further, the Ducks and Preds are second and third in the league in terms of Fenwick Percentage, so both teams are strong at turning their shot attempts into scoring chances.
And unsurprisingly, since these two teams are so evenly matched in the meaningful puck possession aspect of the game, they were also relatively similar in terms of their production. The Predators finished 14th with a 50.9 Goals For percentage at even strength, while the Ducks clocked in slightly lower than them, with a 49.0 Goals For percentage that tanked 17th in the league. Both teams struggled in some capacity with puck luck, hence why their production didn’t match what you would expect from their elite underlying numbers. The Ducks had the third-worst even strength team shooting percentage in the league at 6.64 per cent, which the Predators weren’t much better at 7.26 per cent.
I would estimate that this is the result of each team playing a defence-first style, which is made evident in the fact that neither team ranks in the top half of the league in high danger scoring chances for per hour. So expect this to be a defensively oriented series that doesn’t feature much end to end action or mad scrambles, or hell, offence at all, really.
While the Ducks and Preds are barely separable in terms of their even strength underlying numbers, there’s a pretty major difference between what each team accomplished with their special teams this season.
The Ducks owned the league’s best power play and penalty kill percentage this season, which is a key reason as to why they finished with the best record in the Pacific Division despite the fact they didn’t yield the positive results at even strength that they should have based on their peripherals. The Predators, on the other hand, had a good power play that operated at a 19.7 per cent efficiency, and a league average penalty kill at 81.2 per cent.
The thing that’s impressive about the Ducks, and that’ll bode well for them in the playoffs, is the fact they had a 22.9 per cent power play efficiency despite being in the bottom third of the league in power play opportunities. So in the playoffs, when penalties aren’t thrown around like they are during the regular season, the Ducks won’t be shocked by having fewer opportunities than they’re used to.
And, of course, the Ducks elite penalty kill coupled with Nashville’s mediocre power play should prove to be another advantage for Anaheim in the world of special teams. The only thing the Ducks need to worry about in this regard is the fact they were one of the league’s most penalized teams this season, and that obviously isn’t a trend you went to carry into the playoffs.
You’d think that the Predators would have an advantage in this realm, considering goaltending (and, well, shutdown defence) was kind of being their thing for as long as anybody can remember. But that hasn’t been the case this season at all.
Of all the teams that made the playoffs, only the Dallas Stars have a lower team save percentage in all situations than the Predators do. This is because Pekka Rinne has had arguably the worst season of his career this year. His .908 save percentage is well below what you would expect from a goalie of his calibre, and his adjusted save percentage is even worse thanks to the fact he struggled mightily when facing shots in high danger situations.
On the other hand, the Ducks boast one of the best teams save percentages this season, as both Andersen and John Gibson have been excellent when called upon. Andersen and Gibson split the net this season, playing in 43 and 40 games respectively, and both performed well, posting similar 0.919 and 0.920 save percentages.
Andersen was the guy for Anaheim during their run to the Western Conference Finals last season, but Gibson has had the hot hand recently and will get the start. Regardless, they have a much stronger backup plan in Andersen than the Preds do with Carter Hutton.
|Friday, April 15||Predators @ Ducks||10:30 p.m. ET|
|Sunday, April 17||Predators @ Ducks||10:30 p.m. ET|
|Tuesday, April 19||Ducks @ Predators||9:30 p.m. ET|
|Thursday, April 21||Ducks @ Predators||9:00 p.m. ET|
|Saturday, April 23||Predators @ Ducks||TBD|
|Monday, April 25||Ducks @ Predators||TBD|
|Wednesday, April 27||Predators @ Ducks||TBD|
The Ducks have been one of the hottest teams in the league in the past few weeks (well, actually, they’ve been one of the hottest teams in the league since they got over their terrible start back in mid-November) so it’s hard to bet against them. Nashville is obviously a good team, and they match up well at even strength, but the Ducks’ special teams and the fact they have home ice advantage should prove to be the difference in this series.
I say Ducks in six.