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Penguins vs. Predators Preview: Learning about Nashville

Getting updates and some 4-1-1 about what the Pittsburgh Penguins can expect to face from the perspective of the Nashville Predators

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

We were lucky enough to have Alex from our friends in Nashville at the great blog On the Forecheck to join us and shed a little light on what the expect for the upcoming 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Let's learn a little about the Western Conference champion, shall we?


#1: For the lay Penguins fan who's more Eastern Conference focused, can you give a 5 sentence recap of how the Predators got to the Stanley Cup Final and just in general what kind of team they are?

After a long wind-up in the regular season--where the Preds didn't have their core blueline healthy and playing together until the final stretch of the season--the Predators gutted out a playoff berth despite losing five of their last seven games. Things did not look promising, but they did have a healthy and confident Pekka Rinne (who received regular rest due to the emergence of backup Juuse Saros) and an insanely productive top line of Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, and Viktor Arvidsson. The major question going into the playoffs was: who else can score besides JOFA? The answer turned out to be different for each series, but Colton Sissons, James Neal, and Austin Watson were among the middle six forwards that produced big goals throughout the playoffs. The Predators absolutely overpowered the Blackhawks, were too quick for the Blues to keep up, and then survived a devastating injury to their top center to beat the Ducks.

#2: With the awful injury to Ryan Johansen, what will Nashville's plan be down the middle of the ice at the center position in the SCF?

Colton Sissons slots in as the top line center, but not as a replacement for Joey. The top line now belongs to Filip Forsberg, who is the closest thing to Ryan Johansen on the Predators at this point. Fil doesn't take faceoffs, but he does just about everything else really, really well. Calle Jarnkrok has manned the 2nd/3rd line all year and is the Predators' best defensive forward. It also looks like Mike Fisher will be good to play in Game 1, which is good news. Both Fisher and Jarnkrok play a similar game: tough on the forecheck, smart with transitions, flashes of offense (look no further than Jarnkrok's pass to Sissons on the series clinching goal against the Ducks for his offensive skills), and a nose for getting in the way of passes. As for the 4th line, I suppose they will trot Vernon Fiddler out there again, unless Laviolette decides that Frederick Gaudreau showed him enough in the last two games to get the call.
#3: A lot is made about the Preds defensive depth, and we've long known guys like P.K. Subban and Roman Josi have been all-star caliber players for years. Who are some of the other guys stepping up and playing high level hockey right now?

Mattias Ekholm has been the Preds' best defender in the playoffs. No doubt he benefits from being partners with Subban, but he is just so damn good in the defensive zone. He's also as good a skater as you will see for a big man. He's great at the start-and-stop game, he has surprisingly quick acceleration, and he smooths out his strides when he has the puck, leaving all of options open. His shot may be average, but he is an excellent passer. You'll see him work really well with Subban in coordinating long, diagonal passes, some that lead to a winger and others that lead to Subban breaking through the neutral zone. 

#4: Who's one player maybe under the radar now that Penguins fans will definitely know by the time this series is over?

I'm really hoping it's Viktor Arvidsson. He hasn't made much noise since the Blackhawks series, but he is due for a breakout. He is so much fun to watch and he is pure hell on the forecheck. Picture Patric Hornqvist, but faster. This guy was among the league leaders in shot attempts generated per sixty minutes, shot attempt differential, and shots per sixty minutes. He scored 31 goals and it was through sheer hard work. Having said that, he has plenty of skill. His pass to Ryan Johansen that led to the series-clinching game-winning-goal against the Blues was magical.

#5: The environment down in Nashville has been electric this spring, it seems like there's great local buzz going on. What has this playoff run meant for growing the game in Tennessee and how special that the Preds have finally rewarded years of patience with some success?

It's difficult to explain, really, but I'll say this: nothing like it has ever happened in this city. When the Tennessee Titans had their run in 2000, they had the "Music City Miracle" and that propelled them to their first Super Bowl ever. It was neat and cool, but this run by the Predators towers over that. This is mostly because it's been a slow build up with eight home games played in the city over the course of a month and a half, whereas the Titans had the one game and then jetted around the AFC until February. Add to that the location of Bridgestone Arena, nestled right there next to Rippy's and Legend's Corner, with the world famous Ryman Auditorium in full view of the main plaza on 5th avenue.

What's truly remarkable is that, as crazy as these first few rounds have been, the upcoming week is going to be bonkers. They are essentially shutting down Broadway for a week due to the two games in Pittsburgh and CMA Fest.

As far as growing the game goes, they just announced an IKEA in southeast Davidson County. That count?

#6: What's your series prediction and why?

I think this will be a close series. Nashville has been the best home playoff team in the league this year with a 7-1 record. I think that trend holds. The Penguins have the best player in the league and a surprising amount of depth at forward, so that won't be easy to navigate around. However, if any defense core can do it, the Predators defense core can, especially if Pekka Rinne continues to play at such a high level. In the first round, the Preds deployed a tough 1-3-1 trap that frustrated the Hawks. It wasn't dissimilar from the trap that Ottawa used. Though this Predators team has some replacement parts, the system is still there. I predict some low scoring games (Rinne vs. Murray will be a hell of a battle) with a couple of overtimes here and there.

In the end, I think it goes seven games and I'm gonna say the Predators do the damn thing. 

#7: Expected lines for Game 1?

Viktor Arvidsson - Colton Sissons - Filip Forsberg
James Neal - Calle Jarnkrok - Craig Smith
Colin Wilson - Mike Fisher - Austin Watson
Cody McLeod - Vernon Fiddler - Pontus Aberg

This is really a three line approach, with Aberg being a replacement part for Smith or Arvidsson, who are a bit banged up. There is no reason they should play McLeod/Fiddler, but they probably will.

P.K. Subban- Mattias Ekholm
Roman Josi- Ryan Ellis
Matt Irwin- Yannick Weber