It's been a weird start to this year's Stanley Cup Final.
The series is heading to Nashville after the Penguins took the first two games in Pittsburgh, but that advantage doesn't tell the whole story.
The opener was about as wacky a game as you'll see played in a Stanley Cup Final. It was hard to form concrete takeaways after Game 1. Frankly, it didn't get a whole lot easier after Game 2, either.
The quality of play, as well as numbers and stats, haven't quite lined up with the results on the scoreboard. With that in mind, here's why you shouldn't be quick to bury the Preds.
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They've been better at generating chances
The numbers show that the Predators have largely been the better team so far.
They’ve out-possessed the Penguins in both games -- in all situations, Nashville had a 62.2 percent Corsi in Game 1, and a 63.4 percent Corsi in Game 2 – and have significantly out-chanced them as well. The Predators have more than 64 percent of the scoring chances.
Obviously, the fancy stats only mean so much. The Penguins haven’t played their best and yet they’ve still had better luck converting their opportunities and winning games. The Predators have scored two goals at even-strength, so they’ll need to pick it up offensively.
But Nashville’s advantage in possession is an encouraging sign that it might be able to turn things around if they can make fewer mistakes and get better goaltending.
Speaking of which…
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The goaltending can’t be as bad … right?
Nashville has been victimized from some downright terrible goaltending from Pekka Rinne. It’s the biggest reason they’re in the series hole.
Rinne has given up eight goals and has a .778 save percentage, continuing his struggles against the Penguins, whom he has never beaten in 10 career tries as a starter. The 34-year-old vet was great for Nashville through the first three rounds and there’s lingering hope that he can get hot again, but there are also rumblings that the Preds may turn to 22-year-old backup Juuse Sarosd.
Regardless of who gets the start in net for Game 3, there’s a good chance that the Preds’ worst goaltending performances are behind them simply because it’s hard to imagine them getting worse. If Nashville keeps up its strong play and starts getting satisfactory goaltending, it should be in decent shape.
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A lot has been said about Nashville’s great defense – especially its top four, which is as good as any in the league – and its ability to drive play. The Predators haven’t been perfect -- they gave up too many odd-man rushes in Game 2 –- but they’ve still been very good.
The Penguins have been opportunistic, capitalizing on bad goaltending and the few opportunities that they’ve gotten in short bursts. During Game 1, the Pens ripped off three goals in just over four minutes before heading into the first intermission. In Game 2, they scored three in the first 3:28 of the third period.
The Preds have to do a better job at opening and closing periods strong and not getting rattled when the Pens capitalize. Other than that, there’s plenty of reason to feel about how they’ve played Pittsburgh’s potent offense. They’ve done a good job of suppressing the Penguins chances on net and limiting their puck movement in the zone, even with Pittsburgh on the power play. In Game 2, the Pens’ lethal special teams unit went 0 for 7 on the man-advantage.
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After losing the first two in Pittsburgh, the Predators are heading home to Nashville for the next two contests. “Smashville” has been one of the loudest and advantageous atmospheres throughout this postseason and the Preds have thrived off of it, going 7-1 at Bridgestone Arena.
Sports pundits often say it’s not really a series until a team wins a game on the road. Back in Nashville with the home crowd behind them, the Preds have an opportunity to feed off that home cookin’ and find the fire to power them back into the series. If there’s any crowd that gets wild enough to have a legitimate impact, it’s Nashville’s.