The Dallas Stars took a 3-2 series lead against the Nashville Predators on Saturday afternoon. Looking to continue the run of wildcard upsets, Dallas now needs just one more win to advance to the second round. The biggest difference-maker in this series has been the two teams’ top lines. Dallas top line has led by example and led the scoring. However, for Nashville, the trio of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, and Viktor Arvidsson has had a slow start. This line needs to step it up if the Preds want a chance in the series.
Ryan Johansen and Co Need To Step Up
Regular Season Results
In the regular season, this trio drove the Predators offence up front. Johansen had 64 points in 80 games played. Forsberg had 50 points in 64 games and Arvidsson had 48 in 58. None of these completely stand out as taking over a game. However, it ranked first, third and fourth, respectively, for the Preds scoring. Roman Josi interupts the trio, having ranked second on the team in scoring.
As good as the line was at scoring, where they really excelled was at controlling play. The trio played 511 minutes together at 5v5 and in that time had a 59CF%. This is a very high number and shows that they were outshooting teams when they were on the ice. They also had xGF% of 58.6%. Both of these stats go to show how dominant the line was in the regular season. They constantly out-played their opponents and got much better chances when they were on the ice.
In this year’s playoffs, the trio has struggled to score. Forsberg has just two points in five games. Johansen also has two points and Arvidsson finds himself pointless through five. This just isn’t good enough for the Predators. They need more production from the players that led them to the post-season, to begin with, if they want a chance at moving past the Stars. So, have they been playing worse?
When looking, the three have played 54 minutes of even-strength hockey together. In those minutes, the line has combined for just one goal while allowing three against. So, have they actually been worse? Well, when looking, the Ryan Johansen line actually has a 63.5CF% through the first five games. However, their xGF% is down to a stunning 44.5%. What this means is that the line is taking plenty of shots, however, they are not very high quality.
The line has taken 75 shot attempts but just 14 of them have been classified as high-danger shots. They also have allowed more high-danger chances then they have created. This needs to change for the Predators to be successful in Games 6 and 7. The line can’t keep taking quantity over quality. It has burned them thus far this series. Getting into the dirty areas to create rebounds and moving the puck around is essential for success.
For comparison sakes, let’s take a look at the Dallas top line. This line features Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Alexander Radulov. Mats Zuccarello has also taken a bit of time in Benn’s place, however, the majority of the time Zuccarello plays on the second line, so we’ll exclude him.
Benn has six points and Seguin and Radulov have five points apiece. Four of Radulov’s five points have been goals. The line has played 37 minutes together at 5v5 and has scored 5 goals, while not allowing any, in that time. These are dramatically different results than the Ryan Johansen line has had. This has truly been the difference-maker in the series.
How well has the top Dallas line played? Well, they have a 54CF% which is lower than the Nashville top line. However, the huge difference is the quality of the shots. Seguin’s line has xGF% of 65.85%. This means they are dominating the quality of shots on the ice. They are getting many high danger opportunities while giving up less.
This line has generated 30 high-danger chances this series. Almost double of what Nashville’s top line has produced. As well, they have only given up 17 which makes the difference between the two lines that much more dramatic. Nashville hasn’t always had top lines play each other and so far Dallas has benefited from that. The overall difference in quality is really what is making the series difference currently.
Other Areas Of Improvement For Nashville
The Predators top line clearly needs to step it up, however, it is not the only area needing improvement. In goal, Pekka Rinne needs to be better. He has just a 0.882 save percentage. While not all the goals have been his fault, he has let some soft ones in too. As well, when your top guys are not playing as well as you would wish, you need your goalie to steal a game or two. Rinne has come close to doing this, showing glimpses of greatness between the pipes, but he needs to find consistency if the Predators want to win.
Rinne is currently ranked last in Goals Saved Above Average in the playoffs. He has a -2.14GSAA in five games. While small sample sizes would dictate this obviously isn’t his normal level of play, the Preds need to get him back to his normal. Through the season he was in the top half of GSAA and was a crucial part to Nashville’s success. He will need to continue to play like that if Nashville wants a chance.
Can They Come Back?
While the Predators have not been playing their best hockey they absolutely have a shot in to come back. They need to win game 6 in Dallas and game 7 at home. To do this they will need Rinne to step up and play some solid hockey. Hopefully he doesn’t need to steal a game, however, he can’t cost them one at all.
However, the big line has to step up. Ryan Johansen and crew need to be the difference makers for this Nashville team if they want to come back. Four points between the three of them just aren’t good enough, and while Dallas needs to be applauded, those three need to continue to score as they did in the regular season.