The last time the Anaheim Ducks and Nashville Predators crossed paths in the 2015-16 regular season, the Ducks were 6-9-4 and tied for 26th in the league with Philadelphia. Meanwhile, the Predators were one of the success stories of the early going, chalking up a 11-3-3 mark through their first 17 games.
My, how things have changed.
The Ducks put together one of the best runs of form in franchise history during the middle of the season to get back into the race, en route to claiming their fourth consecutive Pacific Division title thanks to wins in six of their final nine games despite numerous injuries to key forwards and defenders.
Nashville had an up-and-down go of it since the trade deadline, going 10-6-3 while eking just a +4 goal differential down the stretch. The big move for the Predators came earlier in the season, with the acquisition of center Ryan Johansen from Columbus for defenseman Seth Jones on January 6, helping the team score the ninth most goals league-wide while still able to concede the tied-for eighth fewest since the move.
Season Series: 1-2-0
Oct. 22, 1-5 L @ NSH
Fresh off their first win of the season over Minnesota on the preceding Sunday, this was the first of a five-game road trip that would ultimately take Anaheim to the nadir of their season in a 1-7-2 October. Nashville put up three goals while out-shooting the Ducks 13-6 in the second stanza, roasting Anton Khudobin for five goals on 29 shots for the game. Ryan Ellis had a goal and two assists, while Mike Ribeiro had a goal and assist, and Colin Wilson had two helpers for the Predators.
Nov. 1, 4-2 W @ ANA
Beginning a stretch of six home games in seven, Anaheim caught Nashville on the second leg of a back-to-back and jumped all over goalie Carter Hutton early. The Ducks built a three-zero lead through the first 20 minutes, despite playing a bit of a fire wagon game with shots 34-25 in the visitors favor after two. Nashville could never pull closer than within two, as Frederik Andersen finished with 40 saves for the game, and Chris Stewart paced the offense with his first goal of the season and two assists. Rickard Rakell also had a goal and assist, as did Sami Vatanen.
Nov. 17, 2-3 L @ NSH
This was probably the Anaheim looked against Nashville all season, generating a 40-21 shots advantage but spending much of the game trailing. Shea Weber scored on the second of six power play opportunities the hosts would draw, while Anaheim came up empty on all five of their odd man chances. Rakell tied things up just part the midway mark off the first, but a wrister from the neutral zone eluded Andersen, and Miikka Salomaki tipped home a Mattias Ekholm point shot in the second to chase the Ducks starter with three allowed on ten shots. Pekka Rinne finished with 38 saves to hang on for the win, and seal the season series.
Mike Ribeiro - A longtime nemesis of the Ducks dating back to his time with division rivals Dallas and Phoenix, Ribeiro has put up the seventh most points against the Ducks in the regular season. He has 15 goals and 41 assists over 53 games, in addition to an absolutely lethal performance in his one playoff series against Anaheim. While with the Stars in 2008, Ribeiro had two goals and six assists in the six game first round defeat of the Ducks. He had points in all three games against Anaheim this season, and has been held off the scoresheet 17 times in his regular season career, and just eight times at Honda Center.
Shea Weber - The tent pole defender for Nashville is also responsible for the second most points in a Predators uniform against Anaheim, scoring eight times and dealing 11 assists in his 34 regular season games facing the Ducks. Only David Legwand had more goals (10) and points (20) against Anaheim while with the Predators. The captain had three goals and two assists in the six game first round series win against the Ducks back in 2011, trailing just Mike Fisher (three goals, three assists) for the team lead in scoring that round.
James Neal - Another player familiar from a stint with Dallas, Neal has four goals and 11 assists in 21 games against the Ducks. Though the bulk of his experience against Anaheim is with Dallas, he's put up two goals and a helper in his four games facing the Ducks in Nashville colors.
Colin Wilson - In his seventh season with Nashville, Wilson did not participate in the 2011 playoff series but has put up a solid five goals with seven assists in his 20 regular season games against Anaheim. This season he and Ryan Ellis became the 11th and 12th players in Nashville history to put up three points against the Ducks; they're only the third and fourth players to do so at home for the Predators.
Ryan Getzlaf - Only Martin Havlat has put up more points in fewer minutes played against the Predators than Getzlaf, who's needed just 664:21 in 34 games to put up 11 goals and 26 assists for the 12th most points amongst active players against Nashville. Three times the Anaheim captain has put up three or more points against Nashville, including four helpers in just his second game against the team back on March 24, 2006. Getzlaf had two goals and four assists in the 2011 first round series, but was held off the scoresheet in the final two games.
Corey Perry - No player currently on the Anaheim roster has found the back of the net more against the Predators than Perry, with 13 goals and 18 assists in 38 regular season contests. Though held off the scoresheet in all three games this season, he had picked up points in eight of the previous nine meetings, including a stretch where he had goals in four of five games from January 9, 2014 to February 5, 2015. Perry had a massive first round in 2011 after winning the Hart Trophy with a 50-goal season, putting up two goals and six assists.
Shawn Horcoff - 15 year veteran Horcoff saw the bulk of his seven goal and 17 assist production against the Predators while with Edmonton, having played Nashville 54 times in his career. His last point came five meetings ago, picking up a helper in an overtime loss as a member of the Stars.
Ryan Kesler - Kesler has posted eight goals and seven assists in 39 regular season games against Nashville, with two of those helpers coming in his six times as a member of the Ducks. He had back-to-back two-goal games spanning the last meeting of the 12-13 season and first of 13-14 while with Vancouver.
Pekka Rinne - A three-time Vezina finalist, Rinne just completed the worst 82-game season of his career statistically with a .908 save percentage and finishing tied with Craig Anderson for the most goals allowed in the league in playing the second most minutes. Amongst the 34 goalies who appeared in more than 1600 minutes at even strength this season, Rinne's five-on-five SV% of .920 ranked 27th, his SV% adjusted for shot quality ranked 30th at .913, and his SV% against high danger shots at .789 was lowest. The 32-year old is 12-5-4 all time in the regular season against Anaheim, with a .919 SV%, while posted a .876 SV% in the 2011 first round series. For his playoff career Rinne is 15-19 with a .914 SV%, and has given up 21 of his 88 goals against on the power play.
John Gibson - In his first season spending the majority of the year in the NHL, Gibson was an All Star Game selection with a .920 SV% and helped earn Anaheim's first ever Jennings Trophy with Andersen having allowed the fewest goals against in the league. Facing the fewest shots against/60 minutes at five on five, Gibson's even strength save percentage (.922) and shot quality adjusted save percentages (.917) are not great. However, his low danger SV% (.981) ranks seventh, yet medium danger SV% is 19th (.930), and high danger SV% is third worst at .803. Gibson has appeared in the playoffs just once, posting a .919 SV% going 2-2 as an injury replacement during the 13-14 second round. He has faced the Predators once in his career, making 25 of 27 possible saves in a 4-2 win during March of last season.
Frederik Andersen - More playoff experience, more regular season experience, but unfortunate to suffer a concussion against Calgary down the stretch and now likely beginning the postseason on the bench, Andersen improved on his regular season numbers from last season to the tune of a .919 SV% in nine fewer appearances. He faced a heavier shot workload in his appearances, and ranked middle of the pack with a .930 even strength save percentage, as well as shot quality adjusted SV% at .927. Where things get questionable are the slightly below .970 low danger SV% as well as 25th ranked .927 medium SV%. However, his .860 high danger SV% ranks seventh. Andersen is 4-1-0 against the Predators in the regular season, with a .913 SV%, as well as 14-7 in the playoffs with a .909 SV%, including posting a .913 mark in backstopping the Ducks to the Western Conference Final last season.
The Anaheim second pair defense duo of Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson have been a revelation together this season, posting five-on-five shot attempt percentages of 57.24 and 56.78, and Anaheim scoring 51.90 and 54.79 percent of the goals with each respective player on ice. The Ducks have generated better than 58% of both scoring chances and high danger chances with the duo on the ice.
Nashville's second line of leading scorer Filip Forsberg with Ribeiro and Craig Smith post the best attempt-based numbers, with all three comfortably over 56% of the shot attempts. Forsberg is the best at generating scoring chances, helping the Predators control 58.66%, as well as 59.95% of the high danger chances. Defensemen Ellis and Ekholm are both better than 59% of high danger chances in Nashville's favor, while Weber is better than 57%.
The analytic numbers for the season series ended up being fairly even despite playing two polar opposite games. For the three games, Nashville had Forsberg with Fisher and Neal, who controlled the attempts when matched up against a line of Andrew Cogliano with Horcoff and Jakob Silfverberg. A positive to point to would by Getzlaf's line doing well in generating over ~20 even strength minutes against the defense pair of Weber and Roman Josi.
For Anaheim, it's a familiar unit as posted on the Ducks website:
David Perron - Ryan Getzlaf - Chris Stewart
Jamie McGinn - Rickard Rakell - Corey Perry
Andrew Cogliano - Ryan Kesler - Jakob Silfverberg
Ryan Garbutt - Nate Thompson - Chris Wagner
Cam Fowler - Kevin Bieksa
Hampus Lindholm - Josh Manson
Simon Despres - Sami Vatanen
Nick Ritchie, Shawn Horcoff, Mike Santorelli, Shea Theodore, Korbinian Holzer
Meanwhile, Nashville's forward unit looks like this via Tennessean beat writer Adam Vingan:
Calle Jarnkrok - Ryan Johansen - James Neal
Filip Forsberg - Mike Ribeiro - Craig Smith
Colin Wilson - Mike Fisher - Viktor Arvidsson
Miikka Salomaki - Paul Gaustad - Cody Bass
The Difference Makers
1) Trade Acquisitions
It's all hands on deck for the Ducks, meaning this will be the first time that the Predators will face the newer, post-January and post-trade deadline balanced lineup with Perron beside Getzlaf up top, Rakell flanked by McGinn and Perry, and the matchup line with Kesler between Cogliano and Silfverberg. Not to mention, Garbutt adding additional energy on the fourth line.
Nashville has a new look too since bringing in Johansen, who put up eight goals and 26 assists in his 42 games for the Predators, and helped the team roll a pair of highly dangerous offensive lines. The teams are almost mirrors of each other, complete to the center who used to play a higher line role for a Canadian team.
A down year for Rinne as a whole, a back-and-forth year as far which of Anaheim's young goalies got the reins in net. Gibson looks to have the first shot for Anaheim, after posting a .921 SV% over his final five appearances of the season. For Rinne, he put together a stretch of ten straight games where earning Nashville at least a point beginning on February 12, and after a loss won his next five appearances to make it a 12-1-3 run through March 26 with a .931 SV%. However, his last five starts saw him getting chased by Colorado on March 28, and going just 2-2-0 with a .861 SV%.
3) Special Teams
We've featured how significant special teams played in Anaheim's turnaround, as well as how much they can or can't tell about whether a team can replicate regular season success in the playoffs. Nashville had a middle of the pack penalty kill during the regular season, though the Ducks went 1/12 in their power play chances, albeit with different personnel. The Predators were 3/17 on their power play chances, and their unit finished tenth in the league for the season; considering Anaheim was the second-most penalized team in the league, and knowing the sandpapery type of players the Predators have, they can ill-afford to spend significant stretches of the series on the penalty kill. As good as their unit was in the regular season, the team would be well served not to lean on it during the playoffs too.