Stanley Cup Final: Predators vs Penguins

What many hockey types around the game see being the precursor of who wins the Stanley Cup will come down to whether the Predators defense can be special enough to off-set the major advantage the Penguins have down the middle.

The Predators blueline has all of the talent and ability of being the difference that sways the series in their direction but no Ryan Johansen looms so large for Nashville.

“This will be a tight, contested series, but I don’t see how they [Nashville] make up for the loss of Johansen,” an NHL assistant coach said believing Pittsburgh will prevail. “That’s a thoroughbred you can’t just replace with plug guys against that team [Pittsburgh].”

Predators Projected Lineup
Filip Forsberg – Colton Sissons – Pontus Aberg
Viktor Arvidsson – Mike Fisher – James Neal
Colin Wilson – Calle Jamkrok – Craig Smith
Frederick Gaudreau – Vernon Fiddler – Austin Watson

Romas Josi – Ryan Ellis
Mattias Ekholm – PK Subban
Matt Irwin – Yannick Weber

Pekka Rine

Evgeni Malkin calls the Predators blueline of Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, PK Subban and Mattias Ekholm the greatest challenge of his career.

“I think it will be the hardest challenge in my life,” Malkin said during Sunday’s media day. “I’ve never played a team who have six defensemen. Usually team has like one Karlsson. Here they have like four Karlsson’s. It’s a good challenge for me, for Sid, for Phil. We’ll see who’s better. I’m ready to play. I know it’s not easy. I know it’ll be hard.”

Sidney Crosby on Sunday also marveled about the Predators blueline in how it’s a unique group with so many that push the play offensively.

“It’s a unique challenge,” Sidney Crosby said. When you’re thinking about playing teams, you’re talking about usually forwards, snipers. You don’t usually think of a group of defensemen as guys that finish as well as they do. Usually one, maybe two guys do that in a d-corps. They have the luxury of having a number of them.”

Penguins Projected Lineup
Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby – Conor Sheary
Scott Wilson – Evgeni Malkin – Phil Kessel
Bryan Rust – Nick Bonino – Carter Rowney
Jake Guentzel – Matt Cullen – Patric Hornqvist

Ian Cole – Justin Schultz
Brian Dumoulin – Ron Hainsey
Olli Maatta – Trevor Daley

Matt Murray

Last years Stanley Cup Final, the Sharks boasted a 1-2 center punch of Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture but they were still not a match for the Penguins when Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were not even going as well as they are this postseason. Not even close really at how much of a higher level Malkin in particular is playing.

This years Stanley Cup Final matchup is a bit flipped.

Nashville counters with the best top-4 in hockey on the blueline, though, San Jose led by Brent Burns had a pretty good group there too, but Nashville is much weaker down the middle than San Jose was in the ’16’ Final.

Where Nashville is underrated is in the bottom-6. It’s not a group with high-end talent but it’s a group with speed, size and physicality that makes things tough on the opposition. They’re built for playoff hockey.

The return of Craig Smith is really big for Nashville and a player like Austin Watson could be an x-factor for Nashville.

In what some feel is a pick’em series, when you breakdown these rosters, though, there’s a smaller margin of error for Nashville than there is for Pittsburgh and the Penguins should be labeled as a slight favorite.

Who has the goaltending edge?

Pekka Rinne has been a wildly inconsistent goaltender the last couple seasons.

The previous two postseason’s Rinne was 9-11 with a .907 percentage.

The 2017 playoffs have seen the 34 year old Rinne turn in an all-world performance.

He’s 12-4 with a .941 save percentage.

Matt Murray vs Pekka Rinne key Regular Seasons Numbers:

5v5 SV%| Matt Murray 93.44 > Pekka Rinne 92.92

High Danger SV% | Matt Murray 83.21 > Pekka Rinne 72.28

What’s the key to getting to Rinne who has an .880 career save percentage vs the Penguins?

“Side to side [hide] puck movement and traffic,” a scout said of Rinne.

49% of goals Rinne gave up during the regular season were either on deflections/and or screens,  the highest number among starting goaltenders who reached the playoffs.

In the postseason that number has been about the same at 50%.

The league average is around 40%.

What Rinne possess is an excellent glove. Where clubs often target is his blocker, so we’ll see if the Penguins follow the same script.

The return of Patric Hornqvist could be quite important in providing the type of net-front traffic the Penguins lacked at times against Craig Anderson.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray is 3-1 with a .946 save percentage and 1 shutout since re-entering the lineup.

Pittsburgh also has a backup in Marc Andre Fleury who was playing the best hockey of his career in the playoffs since 2008 before being relegated back to the bench.

Talk of the Penguins having a goaltending disadvantage is being overblown.[/hide]