Predators Overhyped, “Underdog” Red Wings Will Take Series

If you’ve taken a look at who “experts” around the web predict to take the Western Conference’s 4-5 series, you’ve noticed a running theme; Nearly everyone has picked the Nashville Predators to win their first round series with the Detroit Red Wings.

Alexander Radulov Predators

Alexander Radulov (Jeanine Leech/Icon SMI)

The hype surrounding Music City’s team hasn’t died down since the Trade Deadline. After moves to acquire Andrei Kostitsyn, Hal Gil, and Paul Guastad, the Predators suddenly became Stanley Cup favorites in the minds of many. The buzz only intensified when Alexander Radulov made his return from the KHL just a short time later. Now after securing themselves a 4th place finish in the West there’s no question the team is good, but are they all they’re cracked up to be?

Perhaps no one has been more important to the Predators this season than goaltender Pekka Rinne. A Vezina Trophy finalist last season, Rinne has proven he’s one of the game’s elite goaltenders. His stats rank well again this season. His 2.39 GAA and .923 Sv% place him in the top 15 of both categories. Those numbers become even more impressive when you consider the number of games he’s played in (73). Yet it’s exactly that which should worry Nashville fans.

Rinne has faced more shots than any other NHL goaltender this season. He’s held up remarkably well for having started in 72 games. Eventually though, fatigue has to be a factor. For a team so reliant on their goaltender, it seems hard to believe they could survive a lapse in MVP worthy play from Rinne. A lapse that they’ve increased the chances of encountering thanks to riding him more than any other team rode their starter.

At the other end of the ice is a much fresher Jimmy Howard. With a much more reasonable 57 games started, Howard has a better GAA (2.13) and an almost identical Sv% (.920) to Rinne. Don’t forget that Howard’s excellence was recognized with a trip to the All-Star game earlier this season. He’s an incredibly talented goaltender that the Red Wings relied on several times this year.

With the 2 goaltenders already playing at such similar levels, Rinne wouldn’t be a significant advantage for the Predators to begin with. Factor in the number of games he’s played and the inevitable drop off of play due to fatigue, and he could actually harm the Predators thanks to their foolish coaching decisions.

Pekka Rinne Predators

Pekka Rinne (Icon SMI)

Aside from Rinne, the most prominently pointed to advantage for the Predators is their special teams; Primarily the powerplay. There’s absolutely no question that this advantage is real, and potentially deadly for Detroit. Nashville’s 21.6% success rate was the best in the league this season. Detroit’s egregious efforts with the man advantage landed them 22nd. On the PK, again it’s advantage Nashville. Ranked 10th in the league, they were successful in killing of their mistakes 83.6% of the time. At 81.8%, Detroit ranked 18th.

Yet the thing most people seem to forget is the thing that potentially makes these statistics a non-factor. The Red Wings and Predators are the least penalized teams in the NHL. Powerplay opportunities will be few, and an overwhelming majority of time will be spent playing 5-on-5. Nashville wont have enough chances to use their powerplay to make it a series changing attribute. Detroit’s ineptitude with an extra attacker will come into play so little that it fails to hinder their scoring in any way.

Keep in mind too that Detroit’s penalty killing is improving. They haven’t given up a goal while shorthanded since their March 24th win against the Hurricanes. With few powerplay opportunities and an improving penalty killing team on the other side, Nashville’s reliance on its powerplay could prove to be another nail in the coffin.

Much too has been made of Nashville’s supposed deeper team. Yet, at least statistically, the argument holds no weight. Offensively the Red Wings have more players with at least 10 goals, and more players with at least 20 goals. They have 3 players to Nashville’s 0 with more than 60 points, and have more players who have reached at least 20 points.

Detroit has both more talented and productive forwards than Nashville (Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Filppula, Franzen) and more players with significant contributions offensively. Their scoring is more spread out, and they have the star players on top of it. Offensively, Detroit is the deeper team.

Ryan Suter Predators

Ryan Suter (Robin Alam/Icon SMI)

Defensively things are effectively a wash, if not leaning again towards Detroit.. Both teams have talented 2 way forwards and both teams have all-star defensemen. Detroit’s oft injured unit has allowed the 3rd fewest shots against per game in the NHL, and rendered 7 less goals against than the Predators while dealing with the  abysmal goaltending of Ty Conklin. Shea Weber & Ryan Suter are perhaps the best pairing in the NHL, but beyond the top 2 Detroit easily has the advantage.

The final Nashville proponent I’ve heard mentioned is their size and physicality. While there’s no question Nashville is a larger team, that doesn’t necessarily equate to being more physical. Even if it did, Detroit has proven they can work around it before. Statistically Detroit delivered nearly 100 more hits this season. They beat the rough-and-tough Boston Bruins. They took the hard-charging New York Rangers into overtime while still struggling with injuries. They dominated the Los Angeles Kings in an 8-2 victory. They beat a grinding St. Louis team 4 out of 6 times this season. Detroit knows how to work around physical, grinding teams. They use their speed and creativity to kill. They can adapt to any kind of game. That’s their experience glaringly shining through.

It may in fact be that experience that this series comes down to. 2 talented teams in different ways. Yet Nashville has only won 1 playoff series in its entire existence. It’s players overwhelmingly don’t know success in the postseason. The Red Wings are arguably the most experienced team in the league. They’ve been there and done that. They’ve won Stanley Cups, they’ve won playoff series, and they want more.

Was Detroit’s finish to the season unimpressive? It certainly was. Yet in their final games they showed flashes of the team they can be when fully healthy and organized. They proved they can flip a switch and tie games late in the 3rd after being down by 2 goals. They’ve begun to gel again after a month plus of dealing with an injury riddled roster. The playoffs are a different beast. The regular season is done and it’s struggles can now be forgotten. When push comes to shove, the Detroit Red Wings are a better team than the Nashville Predators. Nashville’s reliance on special teams and goaltending will come back to bite them eventually. I fully expect this first round series to show that in its conclusion.

Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson

Andrew is a passionate hockey fan at heart, and has been since a very young age. Residing in Michigan, he grew up with the team he currently covers at THW, the Detroit Red Wings.

12 Comments

  1. Predators Overhyped? What sport were you watching all year? Nashville finished 4th and Detroit finished 5th for a reason and thats because they were the better team in the regular season and now they are proving they are the better team in the playoffs. Maybe you should write a story about how the Red Wings only have two good forwards.

  2. Well-researched and informative article. Great piece of writing.

    • And obviously, a very biased Red Wings writer. Ridiculous. It’s also absolutely true that the Red Wings have enough arrogance and money to go around. But, it all ends this year with the Preds. The point that the Predators have never made a deep run in the playoffs is tired. So what? Every team is due for a breakthrough, and the Preds have assembled a dangerous team that is poised for a deep run. When push comes to shove, they are EVERY bit as good as the Red Wings. It’s clear than a newer, non-traditional hockey market team causes you and your fans every bit of concern. We’re tired of being disrespected and I fully expect that to show at the conclusion of this series.

      • It’s a fact that experience means a lot in the playoffs. Look at the blackhawks in 2009; a supremely talented team that was run over by Detroit in the conference finals. The writer is not knocking the talent of the Preds; he is just bringing the llack of experience into play. It is a rather large factor which cannot be overloooked. While they gained experience last year by advancing to the 2nd round, that doesn’t compare to feeling the pressure the bigger games generate.

      • Jackedup2286 says:

        I agree totally…sounds very biased to me. Sure they are tired…whose not at this point? However, I would not count the Preds out yet!! I think they are fixing to show everybody what they are made of!!! Then I want to see what everybody thinks then….I’ll be watching from the sidelines!! Go Preds!!!

      • Not every sports writer has to gush over the Predators.  They are both excellent teams, split their season series, and ended the season separated by 2 points.  With respect to arrogance and money; teams can no longer “buy” a championship team and in any case Nashville was certainly the more active team in adding players before (and after, ahem) the trade deadline.  I agree that the experience factor is highly overrated, and I think the Predators are likely much hungrier to move on than Detroit is.   I think most knowledgeable Detroit fans are cognizant of the team’s shortcomings, and are generally indifferent to the location of the opponent.  That being said, it is generally easier to handle a loss to an “original six” team because of the history between the two clubs.  That’s just a fact of the game that isn’t limited to the Red Wings.  I wasn’t aware of the disrespect being thrown in Nashville’s direction, and the overwhelming majority of experts picking them to win this series seems to indicate they’re being given at least a little more respect than you’d like to acknowledge.   

      • Enough money to go around?  You do realize that each team is under a salary cap, and has been for about seven years?  That right there is a reason why you are disrespected.

        • Then you’d also understand that bigger market teams, such as the Red Wings, have much more breathing room in spending to the cap. Smaller, non-traditional market clubs are more prohibitive in their budgets. You think the Predators could afford to have a team full of Datsyuks, Lidstroms, Bertuzzis, etc… Absolutely not. The Preds have struggled year in and year out to hold on the names we have because there’s always more money somewhere else. So, take a breath GT03 before you assume my ignorance of the salary cap. The Preds have done a lot with much less budgetary room to work with.

        • Berts salary is 1.6 mil, quite affordable to all.

        • Hockeytown11 says:

          Detroit is 19th overall in spending this season and Nashville is 26th. They are separated by only 7.5mil in spending and in the world of sports, that doesnt add up to too much of an arguement. Especially when you consider that  the Wings do not have a single player on our 2011-12 roster in the Top Ten of highest paid players in the NHL- Nashville does: Shea Weber. Considering the Wings have had only five 1st round draft picks in the entire time Nashville has even been in the league, I think the true measure of doing much with less is with the Detroit scouting and drafting. They didnt “buy” the players you refer too- In fact, the Wings picked up their star players like Datsyuk  (171st in draft) Zetterberg (210th in draft) and Franzen (93rd in draft). There are plenty of examples like this in Detroit over their last 20 years and it is well known that throughout, players have given Illitch the “home town deal” in effort to keep $$$ available to pay for a supporting cast. (Not all-stars….supporting cast players)   

          But dont worry, I wont hold Shea Webers 7.5mil contract against you.  Go Wings!

        • You are such a fool. Considering that the Red Wings have one of the best farm systems in the NHL, and the knack to get cheap Vets to play well, your points are wrong. Completely wrong. Quit being butthurt because someone doesn’t root for your team.

      • You are an idiot, not every writter has to like Nashville

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