So we’re almost through the set up, and then McClure will be along in a bit to get you ready for Game 1. There’s not much more to discuss, but let’s clean up the rest.
Special Teams – This probably should be the big worry for Hawks fans, because the Hawks’ PK hasn’t been very good lately, but luckily the Preds’ power play has fallen off a cliff from previous seasons and ranks 25th in the league. If the Predators don’t get a fair share of power play goals, it’s hard to see how they can consistently win the battle at even-strength at even-strength.
On paper, it should be a good unit though. You know all about Shea Weber’s elephant gun from the point, and no forward is going to be aching to get in front of that. If you cheat out at that too much, you would think Ribeiro would have enough space to find Neal on the other side for one-timers through the slot or Wilson or Smith in front. But it just hasn’t worked out that way.
On the second unit clearly Filip Forsberg is the big threat, making all the plays off the wall. Franson and Jones have big shots as well from the point, and Ellis can be a nifty QB, but it just hasn’t clicked. If the Hawks can merely keep the Preds in the form they’re in with the man-advantage, they can keep this an even-strength contest.
Penalty Kill – Which is good, because we know it’s almost automatic that the Hawks won’t be getting much of an advantage when they’re a man up either. The Preds PK isn’t exactly anything to write home about, ranking 18th in the league. Their biggest problem is that Rinne just hasn’t been as good on the PK, with a .862 SV% in that situation. That’s some 25 points behind Crawford for a frame of reference, and Crow ranked 10th among starters in that category. As we saw in the last game here against the two when Hossa equalized on the PK in the 2nd, if you get Rinne moving side-to-side there are some spots open, even as athletic as he is his hip problems of the past show up in this area. Whatever the Hawks get on the PP will be candy though, mostly due to their own incompetence. But winning the special teams battle would mean only having to keep it even at 5-on-5, which the Hawks should be able to do.
So how does it all shake out? Neither of these teams hit the postseason in near full plumage, and this will be the second year in a row that the Hawks line up against a team that lost six in a row to blow the division closing the season. Last time went all right.
The fears for the Hawks are the PK and the depth of defense that the Predators have. The Preds, even while not winning in the last two weeks, have still kept their shot suppression ways strong. They’ve only given up 30 shots or more three times since March 1st. And the Hawks have had problems scoring when they’re pouring on the shots.
However, even when the Hawks were without Kane, they still were able to put up 35+ on the Kings, Canucks, and Blues (once) before they ran out of fucks to give. They can break through the tightest of defenses, and they did that without Humpty Hump.
While Rinne has gobbled up most of the headlines for the Preds, quite simply he just hasn’t been that good lately. His save-percentage in April was .863. In March it was .914, and that’s while not being asked to perform circus tricks. .914 is not going to get it done in this series, unless Crow goes to three straight Rise Against shows with a Lawrence Arms one thrown in the middle. Is the workload catching up? Either way, Crow hits the playoffs in far better form.
Another big factor is the Predators are going to need Mike Ribeiro to produce, and he’s going to have to do it against Toews some nights. Does anyone see that happening? At home I would have to imagine Laviolette tries to get Mikey Ribs out against Shaw or Richards, but if Kane-Richards-Fuckhead can find anything resembling their magic from earlier in the year, Ribeiro isn’t going to have the puck. We know how it will line up at the United Center.
Unless something unforeseen happens on the Preds’ bottom six, the Hawks have more threat there where all of Bickell, Shaw, hopefully Vermette (seriously, I have to write hopefully?), Sharp, and Kruger have all proven to be playoff performers. Throw in anything the Hawks might get from Teuvo, and they have significantly more threat from there which would see them survive the Colin Wilson/Craig Smith onslaught we know is coming.
My biggest fear, as you can predict, is behind the bench. Q is clearly already overthinking this, and it’s not just the possible scratching of Vermette. There’s really no reason to pair Keith and Hammer and Seabrook and Oduya instead of the usual way that would go, but those four are playing well enough that I don’t think it matters much. What he does with the third pairing on the road is where you get itchy, but that is something the Hawks probably only have to get through for the first 40 minutes before the bench gets shortened.
This feels a lot like last year’s first round, actually. All the games will be close because both defenses and goalies are good enough to keep it that way. But last year’s first round was decided when Toews and Kane decided it was time for that, and the Blues didn’t have anyone to answer outside Tarasenko. Well, the Hawks have Kane and Toews. The Preds don’t.
Hawks in 6.