Many a hockey fan and pundit have called the upcoming series between the Nashville Predators and the Winnipeg Jets “the most anticipated of the NHL playoffs” and for very good reason. The Preds and Jets finished at the top and in second place in the league overall standings and when you look up and down the rosters of both teams, you see they are stacked in all aspects of the game.
Simply put, this is going to be a fun series and the following “edges” we give these teams are slight ones at best.
Unlike the series against the Wild where the Jets not only held advantages, but by a wide margin, there is no such gaps here between these two teams that will meet Friday in Nashville.
An interesting clash of styles on offense as the Jets boast some higher end scoring ability with two 30+ goal scorers and five players overall that had 20 or more goals on the season compared to the Predators who didn’t see a single 30+ goal man (Viktor Arvidsson was oh so close with 29) and four players with 20 or more tallies. The even bigger contrast is the depth of scoring Nashville boasts over Winnipeg. 13 players on Nashville hit double digits in goal scoring – it would have been 14 had Ryan Ellis not suffered an injury that took him out most of the season – while the Jets only had eight that got over 10 or more (sorry Buff, Lowry and Copp)
Jets do hold a slight advantage in 5 on 5 goals with a 174-167 lead over Nashville and an ever so tiny edge in xGF/60 (2.41 to 2.4) but the Preds have better CF/60 ratings (59.98 vs Winnipeg’s 58.6)
The Jets attack relies a lot on their best offensive players being better than the other team and then hoping for some secondary scoring support. Nashville’s offense comes from their dynamic defensemen to kick start things and then rely on three lines that can all score, just not with the same proficiency as the Jets top six forward group can.
At first glance it would see the Jets almost woefully out of their depth when it comes to the defense for both clubs, but when you look at the numbers, it’s not as lopsided as one would just assume.
Yes the Predators only allowed 211 goals against this past regular season – only the Los Angeles Kings were better in the entire league in that category – but the Jets aren’t that far behind at 218 goals against. That gap does get a bit wider once you factor in goals against in 5 on 5 play with Nashville giving up a paltry 128 to the Jets 144.
The key here will be health. The Predators overall boast a better six man group, but when healthy the Jets top four of Trouba/Morrissey and Byfuglien/Enstrom make things a lot closer than one would expect…
Looking at the Jets/Preds series one area I knew the Preds would have an advantage is top 4 dmen and they do but when the Jets are healthy it's a much smaller gap than I first realized… pic.twitter.com/QkGivf82xA
— owned by Cat (@Tony_MBHKY) April 25, 2018
Still, even when healthy, the Preds have the better defense.
As you would probably have guessed based on what we’ve seen so far, based on regular season numbers, Winnipeg’s power play was better than Nashville’s (23.36% for WPG, 21.17% for NSH), but Nashville’s penalty kill holds the edge over Winnipeg’s (81.94% for NSH to 81.75% for WPG) but again the gaps are ever so small here. The Jets power play ranked fifth and both the Jets and Predators had top ten penalty kills.
An issue that may come up though is Nashville’s tendency to take penalties. In the regular season they led the entire league in PIMs/game with an even 11 minutes. The Preds are going to have to stay disciplined or hope that the officials in this series “let the players decide things” or a combination of both.
Nashville would be wise to study game tape from the Jets series against Minnesota as the Wild did a good job for the most part in taking away the middle of the ice of the Jets power play, but the Jets did end up adjusting by moving around players.
Just like in the first series, Connor Hellebuyck is going to be going up against a fellow goalie with a fair amount more of playoff experience. This is Pekka Rinne’s seventh post-season as the Preds number one goalie and it’s coming off of last year’s run to the Stanley Cup final where he had a .930 save percentage. This time around hasn’t gone as well for him as he’s shown some of the vulnerability he has displayed in years past where he goes from an outstanding regular season netminder to a goalie who fails to make timely saves. Pekka has a .909 save percentage after his series against Colorado and was chased out of the net in game three.
Speaking of chased out of the net in game three, that was the lone blemish in an otherwise brilliant debut series for Connor Hellebuyck who posted a .924 save percentage and closed out the Wild with back to back shutouts.
Both are Veznia Trophy finalists for good reason and while Rinne has more playoff experience, not all of it’s been good.
Both teams have incredible home rinks with loud boisterous fans, both teams are well matched in all aspects of the game with neither team holding a large advantage over the other in any one category… Save for maybe one.
The Jets have question marks all over the place when it comes to health. Nik Ehlers and Patrik Laine have been part of the walking wounded over the last week or so, Tobias Enstrom should return for game one but his level at health and how it will affect him is a big unknown. Tyler Myers didn’t look right at all in his return in game five against Minnesota. Mathieu Perreault and Joel Armia are hurt. Dmitry Kulikov is still out. Steve Mason’s nightmare season with injuries has carried over to the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the Predators are relatively healthy even having played one extra game. Yannick Weber is really the only question mark the Preds have and with all due respect to Yannik, it’s not like he is a huge part of the overall success for Nashville.
The Preds – at least to start this series – are the healthier group and that could be a huge advantage especially starting off at home.