For the first time ever, the Nashville Predators take on the Dallas Stars in the first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Predators won the season series, winning three of the five games, but the Stars have been hot as of late. They’ve gone 5-1-1 in their last seven games, including wins over the Winnipeg Jets and the Calgary Flames.
Let’s take a look at how these teams match up on the ice and who has the advantage. We will focus on the forwards and the defense in this piece, saving the goalies, coaching, and other aspects of the game for later.
The Stars are have two of the most offensively gifted players in the league in Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. They also have our old friend Alexander Radulov, who is having an excellent season.
But here’s where things get tricky for Dallas. Those three forwards, Seguin, Benn, and Radulov, have combined for 89 goals this season. That’s over 42% of all the goals the Stars have scored, and it’s well over half of the goals the Stars’ forwards have scored.
So the vast majority of the Stars offense has gone through their top line. Does this sound familiar?
This idea that the top line carries the Stars’ offense has been the same critique of the Predators this season. But by comparison, the Preds’ top line of Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, and Viktor Arvidsson, hasn’t had quite the same domination over the Predators scoring as the Stars top line has.
The JOFA line has combined for 76 goals this season. That’s around 32% of the Preds’ overall goal scoring and only 39% of the Preds’ forwards goal scoring. So the Preds have a little bit more balance in their scoring, at least as far as their skilled talent goes.
The Stars have had difficulties scoring goals all season. They finished in 29th place in the league in goals per game with 2.55, whereas the Predators finished in 19th place with 2.88. The Stars probably have some more defensively responsible players on the ice like Blake Comeau, Radek Faksa, and Tyler Pitlick. But the Preds have more offensively gifted players elsewhere in the lineup, like Craig Smith, Mikael Granlund, and Kyle Turris.
Another way to look at this is in the production. The Preds have nine forwards with double digit goals this season. The Stars have only four.
If we were just comparing the two teams’ top forward lines, I would give the Stars the slight edge. But since each team plays twelve forwards across four lines, you have to go with the team with more scoring depth.
Forwards Edge: Nashville
On paper, the Predators have the better talent. But in reality, this matchup is extremely close to call.
That’s because the Stars’ defense has been excellent all season. Playing solid defensive hockey has been the Stars modus operandi. Meanwhile, the Preds have been inconsistent on defense all season. At times, they’ve been dominant. At times, they’ve been horrid.
The Stars top pair is Esa Lindell and John Klingberg, with Klingberg being the strength of that pair. In fact, Klingberg carries the Stars blueline in almost every category, including points (45), power play points (20), and shot attempt share (52%). He can skate, shoot, play physical hockey, and play on special teams. He’s a beast.
The rest of their blueline is a nice balance of size and speed. Jamie Oleksiak and Roman Polak bring the size advantage, while Miro Heiskanen brings skill and speed. Taylor Fedun is also a contributor, though he might be a weak point for the Preds to take advantage of.
On the Nashville blueline, we all know what the top four can bring. With Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis as the top pair and P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm as the second pair, that group has been largely untouched the second half of the season.
The addition of Dante Fabbro to the bottom pair has been an important addition. Seeing as how he scored a gigantic goal on Saturday to help clinch the division, I think he probably starts on Wednesday. He probably pairs with Dan Hamhuis again.
This matchup is a tough call. The Predators have one of the best defenses in the league, but the Stars have been one of the best defensive teams this season. With the playoff experience that Nashville has, I think you have to give the slight advantage to them.
Defense Edge: Nashville
— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —