Playing the Predators in the post season: What makes Nashville a tough opponent (Amanda DiPaolo -- insidesmashville.com)

Wednesday, 08.17.2011 / 10:34 AM
By Amanda DiPaolo (insidesmashville.com)

With just a month until the start of training camp, hockey’s off-season is almost over. For Predators fans, this summer has been the shortest in franchise history. Nashville played hockey in May for the first time, winning its first playoff series, beating the Anaheim Ducks in six games before losing to the Vancouver Canucks in the Western Conference semi finals.

At the NHL Awards in Las Vegas, some of the NHL’s biggest stars opened up about playing the Predators in the post season, including Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry, Ted Lindsay Award winner Daniel Sedin and Vezina Trophy finalist, as well as Jennings Trophy recipient, Roberto Luongo.

Each player saw something different about Nashville that explained why the Predators were able to get past the Ducks and take the Canucks to six very close games.

Perry led his team back to the playoffs after missing the post season in 2010. With a 50-goal campaign, the forward scored 19 of those goals in the final 16 games of the regular season to capture home ice advantage during the first round of the playoffs.

While Nashville was able to beat the Ducks, Perry put up impressive numbers with 2 goals and 6 assists for 8 points in six games.

“It is one of those things where you don’t expect to finish fourth,” Perry said about the end of the season, adding “with three games left, we went from ninth to fourth and end up playing Nashville.”

Perry saw the Predators as a team that impressed all season long, one of consistency. “You look at that team, they played well all year. We played the wrong team at the wrong time. It is not a team we matched up well against. It was tough the way we lost.”

The Predators consistency showed in the season series against the Ducks, with Nashville winning three of the four games played between the two clubs.

Vancouver advanced to the Western Conference finals against San Jose by beating Nashville in six games, but each game was decided by one goal—with the exception of game four when the Canucks scored an empty net goal to double Nashville 4-2.

For Sedin, what made Nashville a tough opponent was the emphasis placed on defense, allowing the Predators to have a fighting chance to win any game, any given night.

“They are well coached,” Sedin said. Predators coach Barry Trotz has been a Jack Adams Award finalist for the past two seasons.

“I think they make it tough for you every game. You know it is going to be a low scoring game, some tight games. That’s the way it was every game during our series. We were able to beat them, which made me obviously happy,” Sedin said, noting that it wasn’t an easy series.

It is no surprise that Sedin would take notice of Nashville’s defense corps. The Predators defensive play effectively shut down the left winger who picked up only 3 points in six games (1 goal, 2 assists) against Nashville.

While it is no secret that consistency, coaching and defense are all strengths of the organization, Luongo, is quick to point out that the Predators goaltending is also second to none, giving credit to Pekka Rinne.

“He had an unbelievable year. He played fantastic against us in the series we were against him,” Luongo said.

The Canadian Olympian points to Rinne’s size and athleticism in explaining his success in net. “He is a big guy. He covers a lot of net and there isn’t a lot of room to score. Even sometimes when you think you have an open net, he is so big he will reach out and put a piece of equipment in front of the puck,” Luongo explained.

Luongo added that he expects Rinne to continue to dominate League statistics for the next several years.

This season, Rinne was nominated for the Vezina Award for best goaltender in the League and finished fourth in voting for the Hart Trophy, given to the player most valuable to his team.

With the off season winding down in the middle of the slowest month for hockey, attention now turns to a new season, with many new faces but similar challenges in finding ways to improve the power play and score more goals.

Gone are Steve Sullivan, JP Dumont, Marcel Goc, Joel Ward, Cody Franson and Matt Lombardi. If the Predators expect to return to the post season, jockeying for position in an ever increasingly talented Central Division, they will need to do it with their youth and play to their strengths—putting together a consistently well-played season with good coaching, strong defense and excellent goaltending.

Amanda DiPaolo was a member of the Preds Bloggers Row in 2010-11 and oversees InsideSmashville.com, one of the newest blogs dedicated to all things Predators hockey.

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  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
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2013-2014 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
S. Weber 79 23 33 -2 56
P. Hornqvist 76 22 31 1 53
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R. Ellis 80 6 21 9 27
G. Bourque 74 9 17 -5 26
 
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