If you attended Saturday’s Nashville Predators preseason game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, you definitely got your money’s worth.
The Preds won 5-4 in overtime after a thrilling come from behind effort that included a late game tying goal by Matt Duchene and an overtime winner by promising young gun Rem Pitlick. There were power play goals (including two by the Preds), fights, breakaway chances, big saves and plenty of exciting action.
For a preseason game? It was as exciting as it gets.
Even newcomer Matt Duchene thought so.
“This is definitely the biggest preseason crowd I’ve ever played in front of, by probably double,” Duchene said after the game. “It felt like a regular season game with the crowd, it was exciting.”
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) September 22, 2019
The Preds gave the crowd something to cheer for throughout. Going up 1-0 on a power play goal by Filip Forsberg, then tying the game at 3-3 on another power play goal by Viktor Arvidsson in the 2nd period. A late Tampa goal put the visiting team up 4-3, but that opened the door for Matt Duchene’s first goal in Nashville. He scored with 3.4 seconds left to send the game into overtime.
Then with 1:39 gone in the overtime period, Rem Pitlick worked the puck free in front of the Tampa net and potted home the winner. It was a nice effort and a great result for a young kid who is pushing for a roster spot in training camp.
Sure there should be several asterisks attached to this game. One, it was preseason and doesn’t count. Two, the Tampa lineup was hardly an NHL lineup. Three, the Preds didn’t look great on defense and Pekka Rinne had an otherwise forgettable performance.
But the bigger story is in what we saw out of Matt Duchene. On Saturday night, we saw several reasons why Matt Duchene completely changes the Predators’ offense.
The Preds’ power play was terrible last year. Finishing dead last in the league at 12.9%, it was probably one of the reasons the Preds were such a disappointment overall.
But things are trending in a much better direction.
The Preds’ scored two power play goals on Saturday (and scored a third goal that was 2-3 seconds away from being a power play goal as well) and looked like a different unit. There was crisp movement, accurate passing, decisive shooting, and, of course, actual power play goals being scored.
Matt Duchene is a huge reason why it looked different.
For one, he is simply a highly skilled player that can shoot and pass better than most. His skills are undeniable. But he’s also in a great position to make goals happen.
Playing with Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg, and Roman Josi, he is surrounded by skilled players that can all shoot and pass effectively. And being in a pass friendly position (as you can see below in the goal by Arvidsson) gives him great options. In this case, he found Arvidsson in the slot, who didn’t miss.
— Nashville Predators (@PredsNHL) September 22, 2019
Earlier in the game, on Forsberg’s power play goal, he was on the right circle occupying a dangerous position. This allowed Forsberg a little more room on the left circle to take a shot and score.
Which leads to the next thing Duchene brings to the offense.
Handedness and Angles
Ever since James Neal left in 2017, the Preds have lacked a real left-handed scoring threat. Kevin Fiala was probably the best left hander they had and Eeli Tolvanen still hasn’t developed into an NHL regular yet.
Matt Duchene being left-handed provides a much better balanced approach to scoring, particularly when guys like Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson are also on the ice. As a left-hander, Duchene can cheat to the right side of the ice and whip a wrist shot at a better angle than a right-hander. Forsberg and Arvidsson can do the same from the left side of the ice, whipping in hard right-handed shots.
This was partially what made James Neal so effective. He could hold down that right circle shooting lane, leaving the rest of the ice for the Preds’ other scorers. It’s like having a deep threat wide receiver on one side of the offense in football, leaving him out there to occupy the defensive back and probably a safety as well.
Matt Duchene has such a fast work rate on the attack. When he gets the puck, he makes quick decisions and moves his feet with a purpose. And his puck handling is excellent. #Preds fans, you are going like to like watching this guy play.
— Alex Daugherty (@AlexDaugherty1) September 22, 2019
Of course, Duchene is a much better stick-handler (and much, much faster) than James Neal, so I think we can expect even more offense from him.
“Score yourself out of trouble”
There’s a theory in hockey that, in general, teams that can “score themselves out of trouble” have a good chance of winning a lot of games. While there’s probably not a lot of math-based evidence for this, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence. The Pittsburgh Penguins have won three Stanley Cups despite having very mediocre (in some cases very bad) defense and goaltending. The Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks also had similar Stanley Cup runs.
Part of being able to “score yourself out of trouble” is having the right weapons to do it. Matt Duchene is one of those weapons.
You saw no better example of that than on Saturday night. Again, yes, it’s just preseason, but the result is still the same. The skill set and mindset of Duchene provided for the comeback. If that was Nick Bonino or Calle Jarnkrok or Kyle Turris in the same spot on the ice to try and tie the game? Probably just another boring 4-3 preseason loss.
This why the Predators went out and got Matt Duchene. And this is why so many players are so excited to have him on board the team, and what Duchene himself has been waiting for.
As Duchene said after last night’s exciting finish: “I’ve been waiting all summer for this.”
— Featured image via Marc DesRosiers/USA TODAY Sports —