Until this very moment, I’ve avoided writing anything (or really even thinking) about last night’s game. There is a very simple reason. I would quickly run out of superlatives. There really aren’t many words in my vocabulary that accurately describe game three of this Nashville vs. Dallas playoff series.
At all strengths, Dallas produced 89 shot attempts last night. The large majority of those attempts came in the second and third periods. If you watched the game, you know what that looks like. Domination, plain and simple.
Enough about the Stars though. Let’s take a deeper look at Nashville’s performance. All of the stats below are taken from five-on-five (no special teams included) unless stated otherwise.
While the possession trends were similar to those of game one, game three represented a departure from Nashville’s typical performance regarding the forward lines. In most games, at least as far as possession is concerned, line one holds their own while facing the toughest minutes, line two dominates with an easier assignment, line three gets obliterated, and line four is mostly a non-factor.
Last night, this trend got flipped a bit upside down. The top six primarily got their teeth kicked in, while the bottom six claimed most of Nashville’s offensive production. Dallas tried several line combinations in hopes of finally breaking down Pekka Rinne. As a result, most Predators players saw major minutes against Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, and Jamie Benn.
I’ve regularly expressed my disdain for Peter Laviolette’s tendency to use Bonino’s line in a premier shutdown role. While it did finally pay off last night (relatively speaking), I’m still wary of this intentional mismatch in future games.
The good news is that the Predators only need two more wins, and two of the potential four games remaining will be in Nashville. That will give the Predators the advantage in terms of matching lines, hopefully minimizing the teeth-kicking of the top six we witnessed yesterday.
As a special bonus, I’m happy to report that PBR contributor George Matarangas was kind enough to track zone transition data for last night’s game. The eye test has told us that Nashville has really struggled to transition between zones while maintaining possession this series (honestly, the whole season). Let’s take a look at how each line exited the defensive zone and entered the offensive zone during game three.
These values may not appear catastrophic, but they do provide some explanation for why the possession was so lopsided in last night’s game. Johansen’s line, for example, failed to exit the defensive zone with possession on six occasions. Those losses of possession will certainly be noticed. Nashville’s top forwards had something of a night to forget, but perhaps they’re allowed one of those every now and then.
While the forwards flipped the script slightly on the usual trends, the defensemen more or less repeated what we’ve seen over the past several weeks. There is a clear divide in the defensive abilities of the top two pairings.
Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis provide decent upside in the offensive zone, but are far too leaky in their own end. Mattias Ekholm and P.K. Subban, on the other hand, are in a master class. Even in a complete onslaught, they still managed to keep everything close to zero. Wrapping up the defense was, once again, the pairing of Dan Hamhuis and Dante Fabbro. As far as I can recall, it was their worst night together so far.
George was kind enough to track defensive zone exits for the defensemen last night, too.
Once again, these numbers appear to be pretty good. Most impressively here (once again) is P.K. Subban. The defensemen individually attempted eighteen zone exits, with only four failed attempts. Subban continues to demonstrate his ability to control the overall possession trends of a game. He is exactly the kind of player you want to have on your blue line in the playoffs.
This should surprise no one, but Pekka Rinne caught the attention of the entire hockey world with a few of his saves last night. Overall, he was as sharp as I’ve ever seen him.
On first look, his save percentages appear to be somewhat “expected.” When you consider the quantity of shots he faced at five-on-five, particularly those resulting from high-danger scoring chances, you really have to applaud the veteran goaltender. Fans should be equal parts relieved and encouraged that the team was able to take advantage of such a heroic performance.
This series has produced three wildly different games so far. You never really know which players will step up and get the job done, particularly from Nashville’s forward corps. Game four presents a major opportunity for the Predators to entirely own the momentum in the series.