Predators vs Penguins – Free NHL Pick for Thursday, June 8th
Well, the Nashville Predators made this a series after a dominating run at Bridgestone Arena. Despite the losses, they took the positives from game 1 and 2 and dropped the Pens 5-1 and 4-1. With the series tied at 2 the momentum is clearly back with the Preds. Unfortunately for Nashville, they’ll need to figure a way of getting a win in Pittsburgh if they want to win the Cup. The two days in between games 4 and 5 will be big for Pittsburgh. They need the time to re-group and find the level play that got them here.
In the end, they’re probably lucky they are even tied in these Finals. They have been the better team in just 2 periods thus far. Thanks to Nashville’s response at home we have at least 2 more chances to wager on hockey in 2017. So, let’s break down game 5!
Nashville Predators at Pittsburgh Penguins
- Nashville (+135) at Pittsburgh (-155)
The atmosphere in Bridgestone Arena was second to none in games 3 and 4. The Penguins looked completely out of sorts when the crowd got going. Nashville used that burst to show off an offense we haven’t seen very much of this postseason. The players who found the back of the net have been a bit more recognizable of late. But still the likes of Frederick Gaudreau have continued to add depth scoring. The biggest difference though has been simple.
After looking terrible in the first two games of the Finals, Pekka Rinne is back. It’s not a coincidence the Preds won both games and Rinne returned to form. As mentioned the Preds need a road win to lift the Cup. They are a far less impressive 5-5 on the road compared to 9-1 at home. With all this momentum, game 5 might be their best shot.
Pittsburgh has looked poor all Finals. Nonetheless, they are still tied in the series and play 2 of the next 3 at home. Not a bad place to be at all. The offense has run dry the last two games and their scoring chances too. Nashville has done a great job locking up the Penguins top guys. Sidney Crosby was probably the best player on the ice in game 4. Unfortunately, he didn’t get any of the depth players to come up big. Matt Murray has been the complete opposite from Pekka Rinne. He hasn’t been great in the last two games after a thunderous start to his playoff run midway through round three. The Penguins need this one badly. They don’t want to head to Nashville with their season on the line.
The Predators offense throughout the regular season was decent. They were ranked 11th in the NHL and had some reliable scoring. Most notably, was Filip Forsberg. He had 31 goals tied with Victor Arvidsson for tops on the team. He was parlaying that into a nice playoff run as well. He had 8 goals and 15 points through the 1st three rounds.
However, when the Finals came along he was held pointless in the first three games and was a -1. He regained his scoring touch in game 4 and needs that to continue. As for Arvidsson, he’s been a big disappointment in the playoffs. The man who scored 31 in the regular season hadn’t found the back of the net since game 4 of the opening round. He finally got a tally in game 4 of this series for Nashville. If he can wake up, look out! As for depth scoring there has been Frederick Gaudreau. The undrafted rookie has three goals in the Finals.
They are also his 1st three goals EVER in the NHL. He is just the 2nd player ever to have his 1st three goals as a NHLer come in the Stanley Cup finals. Players like Gaudreau, Colton Scissons who has 6 goals and Austin Watson who has 4 has helped carry the Preds offense. After scoring 13 in the first 4 games of this series, the Predators now have 60 in the postseason. After 20 games that gives them 3 a night on average just above their regular season total.
The Penguins offense has been prolific all year. They were best in the league in the regular season with 3.4 goals a night. In the postseason, it has been much of the same. They have 69 goals in the 2017 playoffs. That’s good for 3 goals a game. That is a decent number but they need a bit more because of their porous defense. More importantly, their offensive-flow has gone AWOL a few too many times in the postseason. In round 2, they scored just 2 goals in games 5-7. They followed that up in games 1-3 of round three scoring just one in each game. Other than the 7-goal outburst against the Senators, they failed to score more than 3 goals 10 of 11 games.
Games 1 and 2 of this series changed that. They put up 9 tallies. Then boom, the offense was gone and they had 2-goals in their last 2-games. That can’t continue. You can’t blame Malkin or Crosby. Malkin leads all scorers with 26 points and has a pair of goals in the Finals. Crosby is right behind him with 24 points and a goal and three assists against Nashville. What they need is the depth scoring to step up. That falls squarely on the shoulders of Phil Kessel. He hasn’t scored in his last 6 games and has just 3 in his last 16 contests. Jake Guentzel continues to roll. He has 13 goals in the playoffs tops among all scorers. He did however, miss a ton of chances in game 4. He had a few chances on the doorstep for Pittsburgh that could have changed the outcome.
The Predators defense has looked spectacular all playoffs long. They were a middle of the pack defensive unit during the regular season at 15th in the NHL. The playoffs have been a totally different story. They have surrendered just 40 goals in 20 games. That’s 0.7 less goals a game than the regular season. They also have the best top-4 unit in the league. Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, PK Subban and Mattias Ekholm are the best four d-man on the ice in the finals. Having that depth on defense is certainly a huge asset. They have relatively kept the dynamic Pens offense in check.
Pittsburgh is averaging just under 23 shots a game in the Finals. In the previous round, they averaged 34.5 shots a night. That’s an astounding drop-off and is huge in controlling Pittsburgh. The top-4 are a combined +26 for the postseason. When you consider who they have run into that is remarkable. In the first round, Towes and Kane, then Tarasenko and Berglund, then Perry and Rakell and now Crosby and Malkin. Those are some stellar names but they have been up to the task.
They also pitch-in on offense. As a unit, they have 14 goals and 50 points in the playoffs. They’ll continue to log big minutes. All four ranging from 23-26 a night. That doesn’t leave a lot of ice time for Matt Irwin and Yannick Weber. The 5th and 6th defenseman average about 10 minutes a game. However, they are both +2 which means they aren’t too much of a liability when they do hit the ice.
Pittsburgh’s defense has been far less impressive in the 2017 playoffs. That’s somewhat to be expected. They had the 17th best defense in the regular season however they need to be better. Firstly, they give up way too many shots. If you throw out the series with the low-scoring Ottawa Senators, they have been out shot in 15 of their 16 other games. That is just not a recipe for success, you would think. Pittsburgh is fine trading chances with teams. They have the better offense every time. However, when your goals start to drop off you will be in trouble. In games 1 and 2 they gave up a ton of chances but found the back of the net enough to win.
When those goals didn’t come in games 3 and 4 they were run out of the rink. They have had some good games. They have 3-shutouts and have held their opponents to 1-goal four times. However, that may have more to do with the goalie’s performance than their defensive prowess. They don’t have a big, workhorse defenseman on their team. That was Kris Letang but he has been lost for the year. Now they roll all three pairings. All six-defenseman average 18-21 minutes a game.
To say we have seen the polar opposites of Pekka Rinne in this series is an understatement. Heading into the Finals he was the obvious favorite to win the Conn Smythe trophy. In games 1 and 2 he let in 8 goals on just 36 shots. He was also yanked in game 2 leading to questions in Nashville on who would start in net. Head Coach Peter Laviolette went back to his number one goalie and was rewarded. Rinne was back to his old form surrendering just 2 goals on 52 shots. He boasts a 1.88 GAA and .932 save percentage. If he keeps those numbers up the Predators will be tough to beat.
Matt Murray was thrown into action midway through the 3rd round. He was supposed to be the starter all postseason but an injury gave Marc-Andre Fleury the net. Fleury was solid in relief but after a poor start against the Sens where he was pulled Murray was once again the starter. In that relief appearance and the following five games he was spectacular.
He allowed just 11 goals on a whopping 166 shots. He has a 2.08 GAA and .925 save percentage. Those are similar to his regular season numbers. In 2016-17 he had a 2.41 GAA and .923 save percentage. He will be busy as usual and needs a bounce back performance in game 5. The question will be how long will his leash be. Fleury has proven himself adequate and if Murray struggles early he may give way to the veteran.
Victor Arvidsson against Phil Kessel.Both of these two stars have struggled at times in the postseason. Arvidsson should experience a bump after scoring in game 4. He has the ability to find the back of the net in bunches. His 31 goals and 61 points were both tied team highs. He does have 13 points in the playoffs but needs to be better. With Ryan Johansen out the Preds are short on offense as it is. He does provide a solid two-way game. He is +9 in the playoffs and +6 in the regular season.
Phil Kessel is a bonafide sniper in the NHL. He’s a perennial 25+ goal scorer and he too runs hot and cold. The latter is where he is presiding right now. He does have 20 points in the playoffs including 7 goals. He gets ice time on the power play and with Malkin so he needs to get back to producing. Malkin said Tuesday that he thought Kessel was ready to breakout. He better hope that happens and fast.
This has been a tremendous cup final thus far. Like so many of the series it has had major swings in momentum. From game to game and even period to period. Pittsburgh now knows what awaits them at Bridgestone in game 6 and it isn’t fun. If they drop this one Nashville will be decidedly in the driver’s seat. Despite all the positives for the Preds the Penguins are a veteran bunch. They have been here before and have proven they can handle it.
On the other hand, Nashville is new to this. They came out flat in game 1 perhaps due to pressure. With this series essentially at a reset will that occur again? The Predators haven’t faced elimination yet in the playoffs and I think they ae about to find out what that’s like in game 6. Also, there hasn’t been an overtime game yet in this series and the playoffs have been full of them. Perhaps this is the game.