Last night was the continuation of an angry Central Division series between the Nashville Pretadors and the St. Louis Blues. The two rivals went toe-to-toe when it came to highlight reel tussles and aggravation that you thought a suspension or ten would have come about this series. Instead, only 10 power plays have been dished out to the Predators in four games in comparison to St. Louis’ nine. Along with that, it seems like a continuation of St. Louis’ issues under Mike Yeo. They are time and again banking on their shooting talents ride them towards a Stanley Cup rather than generating a solid systems play that will allow them to dictate the tempo for the entirety of the game.
Nashville has simply been having it’s way with the puck much more than the Blues have and it is evident thanks to their three games to one lead. When adjusted for score, the Predators own a 174.9-151.8 advantage at even strength shot attempts. Along with that, the 11.2-9.8 adjusted all-situations expected goal scoreline is not that far off from the 11-8 total goals scoreline this series. St. Louis’ best game probable came last night as it was the only time they have put up over three expected goals and had the advantage in shots on goal in this four-game encounter. Still, only Joel Edmundson was able to beat Pekka Rinne last night and the Blues are scrambling mightily on offense.
In fact, only Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz has put up more than 10 shots on goal this series. That being said, you can argue that Pekka Rinne has been the front runner for the Conn Smythe trophy after the first two rounds of the playoffs thanks to his 95.3% save percentage and his 75.0% quality start percentage. If it wasn’t for the first two games of this series where he gave up three goals in each game, the 34-year old Fin would have had an entire postseason where he has given up two goals or less. This is a dramatic change in perception where it looked like injuries were plaguing a career that would have put Rinne up there with one of the best of his era. But now he is delivering at the most appropriate time and it is only benefiting Peter Laviolette’s men.
While his team isn’t perfect and has only played two of the most mediocre teams coming into the playoffs, Laviolette has been brilliant in constantly playing his top two lines and and defense pairs in hopes that they would carry him through to the conference finals. In the second round, both score-first forward lines have played over 14 minutes of even strength ice time and have all racked up at least two points in four games. In particular, Ryan Ellis and P.K. Subban have been bombing from the points and have been the two leading point-getters on the team.
If there is a glaring weakness for Nashville though, it would be that Ellis and his partner, Roman Josi, are on the negative in puck possession. That has mainly been to Laviolette’s propensity to use them against St. Louis’ top forward lines despite going power for power against them as well. It would certainly best suit him to have Ellis and Josi play against weaker competition for them to close the series.
For St. Louis, they have to figure something out beyond his top forward line. After being such a spark in the Yeo era, Ivan Barbashev has only played in two games and has averaged less than eight minutes of even strength ice time per game. Along with that, the Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo defense pair is getting shellacked with barely over 40% puck possession and both are giving up over 70 shot attempts per hour this series. A secondary scoring line for them is just non-existent right now and they need to find one fast. Otherwise, their season is over before they know it.