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Nashville Are Analytical Predators
Will the Predators Prey on the Stanley Cup?
By Bob Duff
When the tournament for Lord Stanley's mug got underway a year ago, the Pittsburgh Penguins weren't considered to be legitimate contenders. They'd struggled through a difficult regular season, fired their coach and rebuilt their team on the run. Yet when the playoffs got underway the Penguins just kept getting better and won it the Cup when all was said and done.
This spring, filling that role as surprise contenders are the Nashville Predators. Dumping the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks via an opening-round sweep, the Predators brought back memories of the 2012 Los Angeles Kings, a No. 8 seed that rolled all the way to the title. But even more so, the parallels between the Predators and the 2015-16 Penguins are stark in their similarities.
Discount a Stanley Cup future wager on the Preds at your own peril.
Even after their stunning sweep of the Blackhawks, Bovada.lv still has the Predators at +700 to win the Cup, while BetOnline.ag puts them even higher at +800. TopBet.eu is more of a fan of Nashville, listing the Preds at +600 to cop the Cup.
Like the Pens last year, there is growing evidence that the Predators can be champions.
P.K. Is OK
The Penguins made a blockbuster deal in the summer of 2015, adding high-scoring forward Phil Kessel from Toronto. During their Stanley Cup run Kessel was a key cog, finishing third in playoff goals (10) and fourth in points (22).
During the summer of 2016, the Predators made a blockbuster deal, swapping defensemen with Montreal, sending captain Shea Weber to the Habs for P.K. Subban. While Subban didn't light up the scoreboard against Chicago with only a pair of assists, he had 10 shots, was plus-four and logged over 25 minutes of ice time per night. His Corsi of 57.14 was the best of any Predator who played all four first-round games.
Subban struggled with injury and found it difficult to fit into Nashville's system to start the season but is finding his game when it matters the most.
That Other Trade Was OK, Too
Just as the Penguins added some key pieces via trade - Nick Bonino, Trevor Daley and Carl Hagelin, for instance - Nashville built around its solid core with some savvy moves. The addition of Ryan Johansen supplied the Preds with a much-needed No. 1 center and that impact was evident against the Blackhawks.
Working between Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson, that line dominated Chicago, clicking for 5-10-15 numbers. They were also a combined plus-22.
The Old Goalie Can Still Stop Them
The long knives were out for Pekka Rinne, and with good reason. Rinne, 34, underwent hip surgeries in 2013 and 2014 and his numbers were in decline. His regular-season stats were pedestrian. But his opening-round performance was once for the ages.
Rinne put up back-to-back shutouts to open the series on the road and was just the fourth goaltender since 1967 to win all four games of a playoff series with a goals-against average of 0.70 or less. He posted a save percentage of .976. That's the kind of goaltending you can bank on to win a Cup.
They Almost Didn't Get Here
The Penguins were playoff outsiders as late as February and it was touch and go whether the Predators would qualify for postseason play as well.
Nashville was treading water at 17-16-7 on Jan. 8. The Predators enjoyed their first four-game winning streak of the season in February, and put together another four-game run in March, a sure sign that they were ramping it up as the playoffs approached.
Fancy Those Fancy Stats
It's well documented that teams who win the analytics battle also win the Stanley Cup. Since 2012, every Cup winner has ranked in the top five of the advanced stats rankings, and the Predators are right there.
Nashville was the NHL's No 5 team in Corsi during the regular season at 51.37, and rate second among the teams remaining in the playoffs, behind only the Washington Capitals (51.81).
Individually, all of the Predators core players own high advanced stats numbers, led by Johansen (56.44). Arvidsson (55.67), Subban (54.83), Forsberg (54.55) and defenseman Roman Josi (52.80) were all strong Corsi performers.
What Does It All Mean?
For starters, don't sleep on the Predators, and don't think for a moment their wipeout of Chicago was a fluke. There's plenty of reasons to like Nashville as leigitmate Stanley Cup contenders, and when you can still get a +800 price on them, you don't want to hesitate to get a wager down on the Preds.
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