The Predators – Avalanche first-round series gets going on Thursday.
Story written by Mark Harris
The Nashville Predators and Colorado Avalanche will square off in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time ever with Game One set for 8:30 CST on Thursday night in Music City.
The Predators of course enter the postseason as the top seed in the Western Conference after claiming the Presidents’ Trophy while the Avalanche had to beat the Blues on Saturday night just to punch their ticket to the postseason.
Before we dive into the preview of what is to come in this best-of-seven series, we first need to take a look at what went on between these two teams during the regular season.
What went on was a four-game regular season sweep for Nashville on top of out scoring the Avs by a count of 17-8. To take things even further, the Predators have a 10-game winning streak against the Avalanche with their last loss coming in March of 2016.
Filip Forsberg had his way with Colorado throughout the regular season netting three goals on top of three assists. Nathan MacKinnon was strong for Colorado as well with two goals and one assists in the three games he skated in.
The Stories For Both Teams
Now, in looking at both of these teams, the stories are very clear. Nashville is a team with dangerous depth all over the ice while Colorado is dependent on its plethora of young talent, particularly up front.
The Avalanche go as their first-line goes which is headlined by 22-year-old Nathan MacKinnon up the middle with Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog to his right and left.
MacKinnon finished with the fifth most points in the NHL during the regular season with 97 in only 74 games played (39 G, 58 A). He’s one of the fastest skaters in the world and is lethal when given space both entering the neutral zone and crashing towards the net.
The 21-year-old Rantanen knows how to find the scoresheet as well as he notched 29 goals and 55 assists in 81 games, good enough for the sixteenth highest point total in the NHL. Then you have the 25-year-old Landeskog who carded his second 60 point campaign with 25 goals and 38 assists in 78 contests.
That trio arguably makes up the best first-line in the NHL, specifically right now heading into these Stanley Cup Playoffs.
When it comes to other forwards for Colorado, the dropoff from the first-line is rather dramatic, but Alexander Cerfoot and Blake Comeu are two other forwards to keep an eye on for the Avalanche.
When you look at the other side of the ice on the Avs’ blue line, the group is headlined by Tyson Barrie and none other than former Predator Samuel Girard. Both can skate with anyone as well as create plays in the offensive zone.
Again, the glaring headline surrounding Nashville is just how deep this team is. There is no question that the Predators are far deeper and have more talent than Colorado through the lineup, but this is also hockey and anything can happen. We saw the eight seed knock off the one seed during last year’s playoffs, remember?
The Preds are of course headlined by their first-line of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson. But, even beyond those three that went down as the top three scoring forwards on the roster through the regular season, Nashville still has the firepower of Craig Smith who netted 25 goals, Kevin Fiala who had 23 goals of his own, and Kyle Turris rounding out the top six who was one assist shy of 30 on the year.
That’s just the Predators’ top-six which is then followed by names like Nick Bonino, Mike Fisher, Calle Jarnkrok who netted 16 goals on the season and the 14-goal scorer Austin Watson.
The forward group is an impressive bunch, but then you also have the best blue line in the NHL with P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis making up the top two pairings and all of the sudden you realize that this Nashville team can smother the opposition in all facets of the game.
Some Special Team Numbers & Other Stats
Two of the most glaring statistics heading into this series are Nashville’s penalties taken and the Colorado power play.
The Predators lead the NHL in penalties taken averaging 11:19 of total penalty minutes per contest. The Avalanche power play finished the regular season eighth in the NHL with a success rate of 21.9%. This could either prove to be an x-factor in the series if these trends continue into the postseason, or as we’ve seen throughout history, referees may swallow their whistle a bit throughout the playoffs.
Nashville’s penalty kill has been able to offset all of the penalties the team has taken throughout the year as it finished the regular season with the No. 6 penalty kill in the NHL. Colorado’s penalty kill was even more impressive finishing fourth in the league and it’ll certainly be looking to keep the Predators’ 14th ranked power play under wraps to have any legitimate shot at stealing this series.
We need to point out some shooting numbers as well.
The Preds and Avs both like to allow a lot of shots on net as they both finished fifth and 11th, respectively, in the shots allowed per game category during the regular season. Nashville on the other hand also likes to throw shots on net averaging 32.2 shots on net per contest while Colorado finished 30th in the league in that category posting only 29.7 shots per contest.
Interestingly enough, each team out shot one another twice during the four-game regular season series with the Predators claiming a 117-112 edge in total shots on net.
If we look at the Corsi numbers, the Predators claim the 10th best 5-on-5 Corsi For percentage at 51.48% while Colorado is 27th in the league with a poor 47.59%. Simply put, the Predators have had more of the puck and more total shot attempts during 5-on-5 play through the regular season compared to the Avs.
And In Goal…
Colorado’s No. 1 netminder Semyon Varlamov will miss the first-round of the postseason as he is out indefinitely with a knee injury. This leaves the Avalanche with Andrew Hammond and Jonathan Bernier between the pipes.
Hammond has spent the majority of the year in the AHL before receiving his first NHL action of the season back on March 28 in a loss to the Flyers. Bernier has been the No. 2 for Colorado and posted a 19-13-13 record during the regular season to go along with a .913 save percentage allowing 2.85 goals per contest.
The Predators have been fortunate all season as they’ve had a fully healthy Pekka Rinne in net posting Vezina Trophy level numbers as well as strong backup puck stopping from the younger Finn in Juuse Saros.
Rinne has been dominant all season long as he enters the postseason with a 42-13-4 record with his 42 wins being third most in the NHL. His save percentage of .927 is the third best mark among goalies with at least 45 games played while his goals allowed average of 2.31 is also third best among that same group of netminders.
While Rinne will be relied upon heavily throughout Nashville’s run to another Cup Final, the Preds do have comfort in Saros if his name is in fact called. The 22-year-old finished the regular season with an 11-5-7 record, a 2.45 goals against average and a save percentage of .925.
When you look at this matchup on paper there is a clear-cut favorite. Nashville has the firepower from the net forward, home-ice advantage and the experience of last season on it’s side. It’ll be a tall task for Colorado, to say the very least, but expect to see at least four extremely entertaining, fast-paced hockey games in this series.