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The Nashville Predators and Vancouver Canucks Mid-Series Review

The Nashville Predators and Vancouver Canucks have plenty in common – but are also complete opposites. One team is happy to be here, the other is outright shocked by it. Both are hungry for more. One side’s greatest strength vanishes in an instant. An unsteady crown on the Division Champion’s head.

It wouldn’t be one of Shakespeare’s better plays, but it sure looks like one of his plots!

Exciting Slowness: the Nashville Predators and Vancouver Canucks

This is the series that shouldn’t have happened. Or if it did, it sure wouldn’t be in the first round! Even the Canucks President of Hockey Operations said they could make the playoffs only “if everything goes right.” We thought they had a slim chance of maybe making it to third in their division.

As for Nashville, we said they “could make the playoffs” as a wildcard team. And that was because the Central Division looked like it would suffer this season. Plenty of room there between the top three and bottom three to sneak in! Instead, they had a 99-point season, just ten points and three wins back of Vancouver.

How It’s Gone

The stylistic mismatch between these teams hasn’t made for the most exciting hockey, but neither team’s fans mind. For the folks who study the game, it’s been fascinating. The Predators have a quick-out, push-the-puck style that’s high on breakaways and low on control. The Canucks focus on getting the puck and holding it for as long as it takes to get an optimal shot.

This series has revealed the weaknesses of both sides.

In Game One, the Predators managed to strike first after repeated, but isolated, attacks. Thatcher Demko is a difficult goalie to surprise, and it wasn’t a breakaway that got past him but a faceoff play. The other goal Nashville managed was on the power play.

For Vancouver, the talent in their depth came through in spades with their third line doing the damage. Sudden star Dakota Joshua is making himself too expensive for the Canucks to keep, and their fans love it.

Game Two was much the same but with the Predators playing an even lower-risk game. After getting a deflection goal early, they pulled into a tight shell. They threw themselves in the way to prevent not only shots but passes.

Vancouver absolutely dominated ice time and puck control, but managed to get just 18 shots through to Juuse Saros. Plenty of shots were launched, but Saros was ready and the defence reduced options.

One game showed the Canucks could come back, and the second showed that Nashville could stop them. The rubber match had a role reversal, with the Canucks scoring first and keeping the lead for the entire game. The Predators inspired anxiety with a late goal, but Vancouver effectively shut down most high-risk opportunities.

What’s Coming

Thatcher Demko isn’t coming back for Vancouver – at least not in this series – and the Canucks played like it. They won the special teams battle handily, spreading ice time out evenly and everyone playing their part. This time, the Canucks scorers came through while their depth kept Nashville out of the dangerous areas.

That contrasts sharply with Game Two. The Predators protected their lead, but the few shots Vancouver got were from dangerous locations. A slightly calmer team with slightly cleaner passes could have yielded very different results.

In Game Three, the Predators got next to nothing despite their 30 shots. Luke Evangelista dodged away from Elias Lindholm to move into the slot for his goal. Otherwise, the Predators were hard-pressed to get the shot they wanted the way they wanted it.

Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet has spent his time in Vancouver hammering the basics in practice. Their talent will exploit opportunities, but for those to matter they need to keep the games close. The switch from Demko to DeSmith doesn’t help, but they’re used to it after missing him for a month.

By reputation, the Predators should have the advantage there. But the Canucks, for all their huge goal differential and high scores early, are actually comfortable in tight games.

Best Laid Plans

With how equal these two teams are at the top end, perhaps Nashville’s biggest advantage is playoff experience. J.T. Miller and Ian Cole have plenty, but after them, it’s thin on the ground. Not a single player remains from 2014-15, the last time playoff games happened in Vancouver.

Filip Forsberg and Roman Josi have almost as many, and they were all with Nashville. Ryan McDonagh alone matches Miller and Cole combined. Ryan O’Reilly was built in a lab to be a playoff competitor. These folks know what they’re doing.

But now that has come and gone. Vancouver’s younger players have now played in front of the loudest crowd they’ve ever heard at home. They’ve faced down the famously rowdy fans in Nashville. It is going to be very hard to take them by surprise the rest of the way.

To Change or Not To Change

Expect Tocchet to continue doing what works: calm, cautious play. Lean on Miller on the attack and exploit whatever power plays the refs will give them. Keep specialist players in their spots, like Tyler Myers on the PK and Lindholm matching up.

Andrew Brunette has a harder job. Nashville likes their breakouts and specializes in stopping the cycle in their zone to get them. But it’s hard to imagine them playing that successful style any better than they already have.

His line matching of Michael McCarron on Miller has worked, but only can work if the opponents don’t score. Trying to tie up a game means getting their high-scoring players on the ice as much as possible. Vancouver didn’t get a shot until their power-play goal, but once they had that goal everything changed.

And don’t expect Brunette to tell his players to stop taking penalties, because that’s not going to happen. Nashville – and Vancouver for that matter – play hard, high-impact games. There might be a change or two lower in the lineup – Dante Fabbro making his debut, perhaps. But nothing major should happen.

The End Result for the Nashville Predators and Vancouver Canucks

We’re not counting the Nashville Predators out until there are four losses in the books. But down 2-1 against a newly confident Vancouver Canucks team is a lot of swimming upstream. They might pull out this series, but they’ll need some luck to manage it.

The Canucks are still the favourites to reach Round Two.

Main Photo Credit: Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports


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