Stanley Cup Final: Can Penguins find a way to expose Preds dynamic blueline?

The Pittsburgh Penguins this postseason have faced some dynamic defensemen.

Zach Werenski, Seth Jones in Round 1, a deep Capitals blueline in Round 2 and of course Erik Karlsson in the Eastern Conference Final.

The Nashville Predators blueline as a whole is a different animal when it comes to the top-2 pairings.

And what the Penguins haven’t faced yet with the Predators top-2 pairings of Roman Josi – Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm – PK Subban, is how they can push the pace in activating offensively and not missing a beat defensively.

No group is better.

Roman Josi is one of the best combo defensemen in the NHL in how he’s dominates play in all three zones.

Headlined by Josi, a big part of the Penguins game plan these next two days will be dealing with how the Predators d-men dictate the pace of Nashville’s offense.

Josi is not Erik Karlsson offensively but has great puck moving skills/skating ability and is a far superior defensive player in his own end.

Josi had 12 goals and 49 points during the regular season. He is second on the Predators with 52 shots in the playoffs. Josi’s partner Ryan Ellis is another handful to deal with.

Ellis put up 16 goals and 38 points during the regular season and is sneaky good in activating in the slot when the Predators are working the cycle. He also has a powerful shot from the pairing.

Then there’s the other No. 1 pairing of Mattias Ekholm and PK Subban, that has evolved into Nashville’s shutdown pairing and in some eyes the best shutdown pairing in hockey.

Ekholm is 6-4, 215, Subban the more physical presence at 6-0, 210.

The knock on Subban in Montreal is that he wasn’t a great player in his own end. He’s debunked that reputation this season in Nashville.

“Nasvhille’s best pairing all season,” a scout said of Ekholm-Subban getting overlooked of being the Predators true shutdown pairing this postseason. “They made Getzlaf, Toews and Taresenko all look small and it wasn’t by luck”

Ekholm is the type of play it smart defenseman that allows Subban to do his thing offensively but Subban in playing with a herniated disc is bit less dynamic offensively but has made marked improvement in his own end.

“PK has been unbelievable in denying zone entries and if you dump the puck on him [hide] he’s getting the puck [first] to his forwards and in transition better than any defenseman left playing,” the scout said of the former Norris Trophy winner. “I’ve never seen him this good in getting to loose pucks and it’s crushing the oppositions top lines…… Not enough people are talking about how good he has been and how methodical he is playing.”

Subban has been the Predators best possession defenseman despite getting tougher matchups than Josi/Ellis and leads in all key categories.

Among defensemen who have appeared in 1,000 minutes this season (regular season) at even strength, Subban and Ekholm were number one in driving possession with a combined 55.4 shot-attempt percentage.

Ekholm who scouts regard as one of the most underrated players in the game, might be a stay-at-home defenseman with great size, but he’s not some Marc Methot type. The Predators are blessed with riches in having four do-it-all defensemen that can dominate a game in a number of areas and all four are high-end players who move the puck extremely well, are¬†good to great¬†skaters and activate offensively that is a new dynamic the Penguins haven’t seen from their previous three opponents with a wave of these many d-men.

It’s not just Subban, Jose and Ellis the Penguins have to be aware of.

Ekholm is very good at picking his spots in joining the play, moves the puck well and has a booming shot that scouts feel he doesn’t use enough.

Ekholm has eight assists in the postseason.

Penguins must get favorable matchups against Preds bottom-pair

No surprise, Josi (25:56), Subban (25:53) and Ekholm (25:34) are all playing over 25 minutes a game. Ryan Ellis is averaging 24 minutes per game.

With the third pairing for Nashville, there’s a steep decline with Matt Irwin-Yannick Weber.

That pairing is the elephant in the room.

The Penguins have been so good during their last two Stanley Cup runs of exposing bottom-pairing defensemen.

Irwin and Weber are a pairing that needs protected and they’re only playing 12 minutes a night.

With home-ice, a key area to watch will be whether the Penguins can exploit this and get some favorable matchups during certain stretches of games.

Mike Sullivan doesn’t play Sidney Crosby enough, case in point was the Game 7 vs the Senators, but if there’s ever a point to work Crosby and Malkin in for some double shifting it will be Games one and two with home-ice.[/hide]