Freelance: 2017 Stanley Cup Finals— Why Nashville is Still Going to Win it All
The last round of the playoffs for hockey’s greatest prize are now underway and Game 1 was a wild one! The Western Conference’s Nashville Predators have surprised many simply by making it this far but fell just short in the first meeting against the Eastern Conference’s Pittsburgh Penguins. Don’t sleep on the men from the music city though, there are six games left and they should still be considered a serious threat to win their first overall NHL title.
Reviewing Game 1: What could apply for the rest of the series
As has been said before, there is a direct correlation between scoring first and winning games overall. The Predators did that early through the new face of the team in P.K. Subban (who joined the organization after a blockbuster trade from his longtime Montreal Canadiens,) but the scoring play was deemed offside by officials after video review. The Predators got a little reckless later on racking up a delayed penalty before James Neal entered the penalty box on a spate call to put the team down five men-on two. That’s when the Pens went up 1-0.
Depending on who you talk to, you’re going to get differing opinions when it comes to shots on goal. The Penguins proved in Game 1 that sometimes you just need to be in the right positions at the right times but that can be disagreed with—you can’t put the puck in the net if you don’t have it on your stick for a consistent amount of time and Pittsburgh went scoreless for the entirety of the middle stanza of play.
Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan got blunt with NHL.com after the game by saying, “We weren't very good. So, when you're playing a team like Nashville that has a balanced attack, you have to have some pushback. I didn't think, in the second period, that we had any pushback. … We just weren't very good.”
The problem for the underdogs was that Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne fell apart within the first 20 minutes of play, allowing three goals on just eight shots. However, as far as actual SOG numbers go, Pittsburgh was out-performed 26-12.
The Importance of the Power Play
It’s so cliché to sit here and write about “never taking your foot off the gas pedal,” but the this is that clichés become so because they so often hold true and that’s what they Penguins did late in the game. You should always be alert (and while Nashville took one multi-man call that nearly helped to nearly kill them early, they settled down later while the Penguins took the next three straight penalties) and the birds were looking to go home.
Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, and Subban have been a fearsome foursome for the home of country music thus far and the reason for that is two-fold: The Hockey News reports that it’s all about puck movement (time of possession meets speed) and Time on Ice (TOI.)
The average TOIs for Josi and Ellis are 25:56 and 24:00 per game with Subban and Ekholm at 25:53 and 25:34 respectively. THN calculated that is almost 50 minutes of a game that is only 60 minutes long in regulation. Subban has also put up 11 of the team’s 47 playoff goals. So, you have the ability to control the flow of a game for almost the entire game and then you also have a leading scorer in the mix?
Having that much control is like watching a boa constrictor toy with the dead mouse it’s about to have for dinner and when you add in Rinne in net (who’s save percentage was .976 against the Windy City’s Blackhawks, a franchise that had previously won three Stanley Cups in five years) you can’t relax against this squad late like the black and yellow did when there is less and less time to dig themselves out of possible holes.
Cut the Head Off the Snake
Fans across the board no that when it comes to Pittsburgh, they need to watch to names: Evegeni Malkin and Sidney “Sid the Kid” Crosby. For as great as the two are in their roles as centers, they actually don’t lead the team in goals at the moment. That honor belongs to one Jake Guentzel (who had the game-winner— not including the empty-net goal—in Game 1,) who leads the team this postseason with ten.
However, Malkin, Erik Karlsson, and Crosby are the top three in assists for the Penguins during this playoff run. These guys need to be targets (more so than usual.) Stifle those who set up plays and you should lead in puck possession. If you lead in puck possession, you control the flow. When you control the flow…well, that’s the entire game, isn’t it?
The Biggest Factor: Expectations
“Smashville” has been a part of the National Hockey League since 1997 (20 years!) They are still one of the few teams to have never hoisted the Cup. The same can’t be said for their opponents. They’ve built a franchise around Sid’s international and championship success, but the very physical westerners are starving for glory, to prove they belong.
They know how hard and long the road has been to get to the finals and they know they still have their doubters. The Penguins opened at -155 with the Predators at +135 (as of May 29, the date of Game 1 with the Pens also having a 60 percent chance of taking the series and the Cup.) Right now, this series is a wait-and-see game to see if desire will help the Predators over a better-performing but possibly complacent adversary.
"Being down 3-0 against the Stanley Cup champions, coming back, tying it up 3-3 and having an opportunity in the hockey game is definitely something to build on," Subban also said to NHL.com. "At the end of the day, we had an opportunity to be up 1-0 in this series. We're not."
A chance at redemption comes with Game 2. Check your local TV listings. The full schedule for the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals is as follows (all game times set for 8 p.m. ET):
Game 2: May 31
Game 3: June 3
Game 4: June 5
Game 5: June 8*
Game 6: June 11*
Game 7: June 14*