With the regular season over, and the Stanley Cup Playoffs about to start, the Chicago Blackhawks vs Nashville Predators series promises an exciting Central Division showdown. Both teams started the 2016-17 season off slow, but both did what they had to to turn things around and take their rightful spots in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Chicago Blackhawks vs Nashville Predators First Round Series Preview
Will The Big Names Show Up?
Each organization has big names at the forefront, with arguably Chicago having the bigger names. Can the big names like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Ryan Johansen, and Roman Josi step up for their respective clubs?
The analytics for both Kane and Toews were rather pedestrian, at least to their standards, this season. When looking at score, venue, and zone adjusted (to make it repeatable) Relative Corsi-For Percentage, Kane had a 0.86 and Toews a 1.00 this season. It is safe to say that these two, and players like Artemi Panarin (3.97 Rel.CF%), are going to massive factors in the Blackhawks getting past the Predators.
Compare the numbers above to the big names on the Predators, and it starts to paint a promising picture for Nashville. Johansen sits at an elite 7.21, Viktor Arvidsson comes in at 5.18, P.K. Subban at 4.09, and Josi at 2.51 respectively. While the Predators may not, arguably, have as big of names as the Blackhawks, this depth in all ends could play in their favor come the first puck drop of this series.
A Battle of Average Special Teams
Special teams can play a pivotal role in deciding a series like this one, that much is for sure. But when taking a look at the percentages for both organizations this season, it’s more of which one will break their trend from the regular season. Both the Blackhawks and the Predators have been relatively average, or poor, on both the power play and penalty kill this season. So what can break their trend?
Nashville comes in at 16th in the NHL in power=play percentage at a rather pedestrian 18.9%. If Johansen can be the creative force many know him to be, this may not be the case during the series. When taking into account that they’re taking on Chicago’s 24th-ranked penalty kill in the league (77.7%), it gives hope to Nashville that they can get some ever-important goals on the man advantage.
While the same could be said vice versa, it isn’t as favorable for the Blackhawks. Nashville is sporting an 80.9% on the penalty kill this season. While this isn’t anything to write home about, it might just be good enough to see them take advantage of any lapse of discipline by Chicago, who are performing on the power play at the tune of 18.0%, not far behind Nashville.
Another important statistical note to this point is the amount of time each team has spent down a man this season, as this could be the difference maker. Chicago had the second-least penalties committed in the 2016-17 season, resulting in them playing on the penalty kill for an average of 7:07 per game, second-least in the NHL. Nashville, while not the worst, had 327 penalties committed this season, 13th-most, but also spent 10:09 down a man, the 7th-most in the NHL. Can Nashville break that trend, or will Chicago continue its fantastic discipline and punish the Preds? The safe bet is likely on the latter.
The goalie play in this series might very well end up being one of the most important factors. The Blackhawks have a borderline elite goalie in Corey Crawford, whereas the Predators have a strong netminder in Pekka Rinne and suitable back-up in Juuse Saros. While it’s obvious that Rinne will be the main netminder in this series, Saros will likely be called upon to pick up at least one win throughout if the Predators are to advance.
Crawford had another fine season, going 32-18-4 with a 2.55 goals-against average, and an .918 save percentage. While not elite numbers, they could be partially attributed to the slow start that he, and Chicago as a whole, had this year. Crawford finished the season winning six of his last 10 starts, giving him a boost in confidence heading into what is surely going to be a very tough series with Nashville.
On the other end of the ice, Rinne had a much-improved 2016-17 season compared to the year before. While he did end up with three less wins, every other baseline statistic had a solid jump over 2015-16. Rinne finished the year at 31-19-9, compared to 34-21-10 in 2015-16, and with a 2.42 goals-against average and an .918 save percentage. Compare those to the 2.48 goals-against average and .908 save percentage he had last year, and he gives much more faith to their back end. This could also be partially attributed to the addition of the elite defenseman Subban this season.
While it’s likely that Chicago and Nashville ride their starting goalies for a vast majority of their respective playoff runs, Saros and and Scott Darling will play an important role of hopefully snagging a win if the starters need a rest. Darling finished the season with an 18-5-5 record, a 2.38 goals-against average, and an .924 save percentage. Impressive numbers to say the least. Saros is having a rather solid season as well, with a 10-8-3 record, 2.35 goals-against average, and an .923 save percentage.
If the goalie play for both organizations continues in the way it has during the regular season, this could very well turn into one of the most excited first rounds in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
With everything being so tight between these two teams, it’s one of the harder first round series to predict. However, with all things noted, this series will likely go in favor of Chicago, who won the regular season series four games to one.
Blackhawks in seven.
Here are the other predictions from members of the Last Word on Hockey team:
Ben Kerr: Chicago in 5
Markus Meyer: Chicago in 5
Patrick Dejbjerg: Chicago in 7
Sean Merz: Chicago in 5
David Elisio: Chicago in 6
Kyle Cushman: Chicago in 5
Griffin Schroeder: Chicago in 6
Charlie O’Connor Clarke: Chicago in 6
Hunter Hodies: Chicago in 5
Graham Anderson: Chicago in 5
Rachel Halliwell: Chicago in 6
Spencer Lussier: Chicago in 6
Jake Howorth: Chicago in 6
Nicholas Di Giovanni: Chicago in 6