Ducks vs. Preds—A Look Back

ROBBY:
With Chicago losing to Detroit, the Anaheim Ducks are set to host the Nashville Predators in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. As luck would have it, Nashville was the one team that most of us here at Anaheim Calling were hoping to avoid in the Western Conference Quarterfinals. A good deal of that reasoning has to do with the way Nashville plays overall, and our particular contests against them this year. With that in mind, I wanted to take a quick look back at the four-game set against the Preds this year to see what we might learn in advance of the first-round matchup.

Being a non-division Western Conference opponent, the Ducks played Nashville four times this year, twice at home and twice on the road. In those four games, the Ducks went a combined 1-3, with the Ducks' sole win in the series coming at home. Here's a high-level breakdown of the series:

Ducks

Predators

Goals

11

17

Shots

153

125

PIM

44

46

PP %

3/16 (18.75%)

1/15 (6.67%)

PK %

14/15 (93.3%)

13/16 (81.25%)

I've got to admit, I'm a bit surprised at these numbers. If you omit Goals, it sure seems like the Ducks had the better statistical play. However, this doesn't mesh with my memory of these games. At all. Join me below the fold for a more in-depth look at each game.

Game One: October, 9 2010

Ducks 1, Predators 4

This was Anaheim's second game of the season (and the second game of a back-to-back) and it was an ugly one. Much like they did with Detroit (and the Blues after this), the Ducks fell behind quickly. Although Koivu was able to tie up the game at 1-1 in the second period, Nashville would go on to score twice more in the middle frame and they never looked back. Anaheim struggled mightily with penalties in this game, amassing an unsightly 21 PIM and giving Nashville seven opportunities with the man advantage. As mentioned, Koivu had the lone goal for the Ducks, while Goc, Sullivan, Hornqvist, and Legwand all lit the lamp for the home team. Sheldon Brookbank and Matt Beleskey were both -2 on the game, and Brendan Mikkelson (remember him?) was also a -1.

Overall, this game just sucked in every possible way. There was little to get excited about, and it was one of the performances that caused some to question whether or not the Ducks had made the right decision in sticking with Hiller (although his performance against the Blues in the next game would raise more questions). Looking back now, I can confidently say that the Ducks are no longer the same team they were in October. You might be able to file this one as an outlier that's not truly indicative of Anaheim's abilities against Nashville.

Game Two: November 7, 2010

Nashville 4, Anaheim 5

The team's second meeting of the year was a much different game than their first. Both teams played much cleaner games, resulting in just 16 PIM combined. Scoring went back and forth in this one, with Anaheim jumping out to a quick lead less than a minute into the game and Nashville tying it up early in the second. Both teams continued to trade goals until Paul Mara did the unthinkable, scoring the game winner with 1.7 seconds left in the third period on a feed from Bobby Ryan. Teemu, Koivu (x2), Lubo, and Mara scored goals for Anaheim while Hornqvist, Sullivan, Franson, and O'Reilly all scored for Nashville. Marchant and Fowler were both -2, while Teemu, Bobby, Koivu, and Blake were all +2.

I don't remember much about this game aside from the crazy finish. This was during Palmieri and Bonino's stints with the club, with both getting about 6:50 of ice time. Looking back through the game log for this game, it reminds me more of the March 24th affair against Nashville, and is probably closer to what we might be able to expect in the first round.

Game Three: January 5, 2011

Nashville 4, Anaheim 1

This game was actually much closer than the final score would indicate. Until the final minute of the game, the Predators held a slim 2-1 advantage on the strength of goals form Smithson and Hornqvist. While Saku Koivu cut the lead to one in the third period, Kostitsyn and Weber hit Anaheim's empty net twice in the final minute of the game, clinching the contest for Nashville. This game was another relatively clean affair in terms of penalties, though Belak and Parros went at it in the first period. Even though the Ducks heavily outshot the Predators (41 to 24), the Ducks struggled to get anything by Pekka Rinne. Perry, Ryan, and Lapierre also sported an ugly -3 in this game, although those numbers can be attributed to their presence on the ice for both empty-net goals. No Duck finished with a plus in this game.

While the score is somewhat misleading, I think this is yet another good example of what a Ducks-Predators series will look like. As was the case for every game in the series except the first, the Ducks heavily outshot the Predators, who were bailed out by the work of Rinne. An interesting note is that Koivu scored goals in each of the first three games against the Predators. In fact, most of the damage against Nashville in the first three games have come from the second line. As some have already begun to speculate, secondary scoring will probably be a huge factor in this series. The pairing of Weber and Suter is likely one of the few defensive groupings in all of hockey that can handle Anaheim's top-line. The Ducks will likely need contributions outside of their top line if they're going to find success against Nashville.

Game Four: March 24, 2011

Anaheim 4, Nashville 5

You might as well call this the Jonas Hiller game. In only his second start since the All-Star Game, Jonas Hiller manned the net for only 11:37 before being chased by three goals on nine Nashville shots. The 3-0 deficit eventually proved too difficult to overcome, although the Ducks clawed all the way back from a 5-1 deficit to make it a close game. The Ducks found success with their PP in this game, scoring twice in six chances. Perry and Selanne both scored twice for the Ducks while Kostitsyn (x2), Spaling, Tootoo, and Legwand found the back of the net for Nashville. Luca Sbisa recorded a ghastly -4 in this game while only Lubo (+2), Getz (+1), and Perry (+1) recorded a plus-rating.

This game was a heart-breaker for Ducks fans. Not only did they play their hearts out and kick and scrape the entire game, but they also realized that their star netminder was likely unavailable for the rest of the season. Rinne once again stood out in this game, making several highlight-reel saves throughout the game. Despite outshooting the Predators by 10 shots, the Ducks just weren't able to close that early gap. This game is probably the best barometer of how a Ducks/Predators series will play out, and even then, it's difficult to know for sure given that Hiller gave up a quick three goals. The one thing about this game that will probably be relevant in the pending playoff series is Rinne's play. As this game demonstrated, he can definitely steal one.

What We Learned

I'm not quite sure how to tell you this, but Pekka Rinne is a damn good goalie. His 2.12 GAA and .930 save percentage rank second and third respectively in the league this year. If the Ducks are going to win the Quarterfinals, they're going to have to find a way to solve Rinne. One avenue would appear to be the PP, which has been clicking at a stout rate in the last month of the season. A Nashville series would seem to afford the Ducks their fair share of PP chances, as the four games from 2010-2011 would indicate a relatively even penalty breakdown.

As I also mentioned above, secondary scoring will probably be the key to this series. Weber and Suter are going to be on the ice every time the top line is out, and being able to get regular contributions from other lines is going to be a huge factor in this series. While he's been cold the past two games, Bobby Ryan's demotion to the third line could be a huge thing to watch in this series. If he's able to get ample minutes on the ice away from Nashville's top pairing, he may be able to provide the secondary scoring Anaheim will need.

Anaheim's goaltending will also be a big factor in this series. Nashville lit up Jonas over the four game series, scoring an average of 4.25 goals over this year's regular season series. While two of those were empty-netters, Nashville had clearly found a way to beat Hiller. Perhaps Ray Emery or Dan Ellis will have better luck against a Nashville team that ranked 21st in the league in goals per game.

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