The focus for most of the Nashville Predators 2018-19 campaign has been: are they good enough to beat the Winnipeg Jets in the playoffs?
It makes sense for the most part. After all the Jets beat the Preds in the first ever Game 7 at Bridgestone Arena, ending the Preds’ first ever Presidents’ Trophy season with a 2nd round exit.
But the more realistic worry for the Preds now is currently sitting in 3rd place in the Central.
The St. Louis Blues are red-hot. They’ve won 12 of their last 13 games, including 11 straight. They’ve scored 3.77 goals per game in that stretch and only allowed 1.69 goals per game.
And it’s not just their veterans, like Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan O’Reilly, that have stepped up. Rookie goalie Jordan Binnington has a .943 save percentage in 15 games since January 1st. David Perron is pushing for a career year (.78 points per game is the 2nd highest mark in his career). Rookie forward Robert Thomas has 20 points in his first NHL season.
A couple weeks ago, the Preds were swept in a home and home with the Blues. Reasonably, fans began to worry that this Preds team might be losing its edge in the Central. Then the Blues kept winning, reeling off five more wins and pulling within six points of the Preds in the standings, with three games in hand.
The Blues and Preds might as well be tied for 2nd behind Winnipeg in the race for the Central.
This is all leading to a “more likely than not” first round matchup with the Blues: the website sportsclubstats.com calculates that the Preds have a 48.8 percent chance of meeting the Blues in the first round.
Size will be a problem
Sure, the Predators beat the Blues in their only playoff meeting back in 2017. And for the most part, the current versions of these two teams are fairly similar to their 2017 versions. But in the playoff race, it’s all about matchups and partially about momentum.
In reality, the Blues are not a good matchup for the Preds. Their size poses a big problem, much in the same way that Winnipeg’s size poses a problem. But while the Blues may not have the same level of skill that Winnipeg does, they probably have more size.
For example, the Blues defense is huge. Five of their six top defensemen are over 6’3″ and north of 210 pounds. The Preds were able to get past these defensemen in the 2017 playoffs with speed and lob passes, but the Blues are probably going to remember that.
And as we’ve seen this season, the Preds’ speed can be beaten with size.
The Blues also have a few big bruising forwards. Pat Maroon may only have 16 points in 51 games, but he can use his size to give opposing forwards problems. Zach Sanford and Oscar Sundqvist have decent size as well and have combined for 18 goals this season.
If Preds fans are worried about the size and skill that Winnipeg has, they should be just as worried about the team that the Preds will have to go through to get to the Jets.
— Featured image via Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports —