After Monday’s games the Nashville Predators were second in the NHL in goals for with 11. In last place? The San Jose Sharks with three as they prepared for Game 3 with Los Angeles. What kind of Bizarro world is this? Why, it’s the NHL post-season!
The Preds, for the record, were tied for 21st in scoring in the regular season, while the Sharks finished sixth.
It’s ironic that the Predators are scoring at such a rate. This is a team built to play as one - no superstars, just 18 players who can each contribute. Oh, and they have Pekka Rinne between the pipes. It was thought that if Nashville was to end the never-getting-to-the-second-round curse they would get there on Rinne’s shoulders, but the netminder has been only average. He has faced 71 shots and has given up eight goals for an .887 save percentage. Normally a stat like that would mean the Preds were trailing a series 3-0.
But the team has a couple of aces up its sleeve. Mike Fisher was having a miserable season in Ottawa that turned into a miserable season in Nashville when he managed just four points in his first 20 games with his new team after being traded. But he ended the year on a roll, posting eight points in his last seven games. Add in his solid playoff numbers and Fisher has 13 in his past 10.
When players get hot like that at the very end of the season, the improved production gets buried in their already-established weak statistics. No matter how hot Fisher was in the final two weeks, the opposition didn’t adjust their game plan accordingly. But, had he been more consistent all year long, things would be different.
The Anaheim Ducks will catch on, but will they do it before they are down 3-1 in the series? Look for the Ducks to clamp down on the Fisher line. That will, in turn, open things up for the David Legwand line.
The other ace up Nashville’s sleeve is Sergei Kostitsyn. Including the playoffs, the younger brother of Montreal’s Andrei has 50 points in his past 61 games. Since he was Nashville’s top regular season scorer, the Ducks were already paying attention to him. But are they giving Kostitsyn enough respect? Are they clamping down on him like the 50-point player the final numbers reflect? Or are they treating him like the 65-point player he has been since December?
The Predators are fast becoming a Cinderella team, as opposing squads continue to underestimate them. And here’s a scary question for those teams: what if Rinne gets hot?
After Drew Doughty’s dominant performance Saturday, Kings fans suddenly believe this team could go deep even without their top scorer, Anze Kopitar. Doughty picked up four points in the 4-0 white wash of the Sharks, but he’s always been at his best when the post-season comes around. His career numbers: five goals, six assists in eight playoff games. Fellow blueliner Jack Johnson is similarly productive, with nine points in eight career playoff games.
It is a time for offensive defensemen to shine, as the power play becomes so important in the post-season. It’s interesting to see Buffalo’s Marc-Andre Gragnani being leaned on a little by coach Lindy Ruff. Prior to March 30, Gragnani had just nine NHL games to his name and in only one of them did he see more than 18 minutes. Since then, he has played nine games and has seven points. He’s seen at least 18 minutes in four of those contests.
In the past two seasons in the American League, the 24-year-old had 94 points in 142 games. This is a defenseman I’m talking about here. Needless to say, the upside is there. And the fact he’s getting the ice time when it matters most at the NHL level indicates to me he will be on the team in the fall and will make for an excellent dark horse pick.
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