As is tradition here, we will break up our preview over two days. I’ll take the back end today, because most tend to think I’m a horse’s ass, and then Matt will be around tomorrow to take you through the forward group. So let’s dive right in before they drain the pool, shall we?
Pekka Rinne: 31-19-9, 2.42 GAA, .918 SV%, .929 EV SV%, .862 SH SV%
Ah yes, this old thing. You remember this. The Hawks have only faced one other goalie three times in the playoffs, and that would be Roberto Luongo. He was able to turn the tables on the Hawks at the third time of asking, but the 2011 team is not this team and the Predators are not the ’11 Canucks. When we first did this dance in 2010 it was a little scary facing Rinne, but then the Hawks punted him to a .911 over six games and won. In 2015 Rinne’s limitations were already well known to everyone, and while Crawford and then Darling took their turns swallowing mouthwash, Rinne couldn’t take advantage and put up a .909 over six games and was once again sent home. There’s no reason to think this will go any differently.
Sure, Rinne comes in pretty hot, with a .923 in March and sparkling in three April appearances, but we’ve seen this movie before. The Hawks have enough talent to get him moving side-to-side, which he simply doesn’t do that well anymore thanks to the reason we call him Ol’ Shit Hip. He used to be an incredible athlete in net, which would bail him out of his sometimes exaggerated movement. That is no longer the case. The glove still works, but it’s being asked to do too much.
The biggest knock is that Rinne simply hasn’t come up with “THE BIG SAVE” in a couple years (not to be confused with “THE BIG SLEEP,” which the Preds will be in after five or six games). Among starting goalies Rinne ranks fifth worst in high-danger save percentage, and over the last two years second-worst. Meanwhile, Corey Crawford ranks second over the past two seasons. The Hawks will get big saves, saves they shouldn’t get, from Crawford. The Preds likely won’t from Rinne. And which team is more likely to create the more dangerous chances? I’ll hang up and listen.
Juuse Saros: 10-8-3, 2.35 GAA, .923 SV%, .927 EV SV%, .918 SH SV%
Now here’s the wildcard. A goalie the Hawks haven’t seen and one who is the future anyway. They know the book on Rinne and can exploit that ASAP. They might need some time with Saros (who will be known as Sarris from here on out for you Galaxy Quest dorks like me), and the Preds need all the time they can get.
The problem with Saros is that he just isn’t that big, at only 5-11. The Hawks would find more room that his more athletic-than-Rinne abilities would have to cover for. The Hawks aren’t the type of team that can consistently push a goalie around, but Hartman and Panik would certainly take a look, along with Anisimov.
Saros also hasn’t been very good on high-danger chances, but he at least would give the Hawks something to think about. You get the feeling that we’re going to see him at some point. Does Laviolette want to use him when he’s the last throw of the dice or a gamble with a net below?
1st Pairing: PK Subban and Mattias Ekholm
Oh PK, this is going to hurt. I love you so, and would like nothing more than to see you bring a Cup back to Montreal one day and then just stand outside Notre Dame Basilica and basically flip everyone the bird for eight straight hours. Instead, you’d probably bring it right to your children’s hospital and make us all cry until we’re dangerously dehydrated. But this is not your time, friend. Sorry.
For the first part of the, Lavvy partnered Subban with Josi and it did not work all that well. Both were too similar and both limited each other’s game trying to figure out who was going and who was staying or both going and leaving odd-mans the other way aplenty. Switching Subban to Ekholm has worked wonders, and they carry a 55.3 CF% share together. It boosted Subban’s production as well, with 22 points in his last 32 games. You know all about Subban’s Doomsday Gun on the power play, the one thing that might make the Hawks sweat in this series. They’ll have to cheat out to him and take their chances elsewhere, otherwise they’ll be picking up pieces of Crawford’s right ear off the ice by Game 4.
2nd Pairing: Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis
While swapping pairings worked out for Subban, it hasn’t quite for Josi. That’s because the Preds don’t really have another free safety worthy of a top four role, so the job falls to Ryan Ellis who really is a go up and get it kind of player, too. It’s certainly an explosive pairing, combining for 87 points (or you know, just north of one Erik Karlsson every year). But Josi himself was far more effective when paired with the in-place Matt Irwin, rolling up a 60% share. With Ellis they only carry barely above water. Still, with an expected-goal percentage of 54.6%, they create better chances than they give up. If Lavvy is feeling rambunctious, he’d get them out against The Russian Spies and see just how well they can defend. It’s fire with fire, but might work out in their favor. Of course, Q will counter by trying to take advantage of Ellis’s size, and maybe get Hartman and Hayden leaning on him as often as possible.
Josi also missed the last game with a lower body injury, but is going to be ready for all this.
3rd Pairing: Matt Irwin and Yanick Weber/Anthony Bitetto
Woof. The problem for the Predators is that Q is going to get to pick these guys clean whenever he wants, and Lavvy is going to be awfully tempted to just run his top pairings for close to 55 minutes of every game to avoid that fate. Bitetto basically got his clock cleaned all season, to the tune of a 44.3 CF%, so I doubt you’ll be seeing him much. Weber and Irwin, while effective enough while played with real d-men, would scratch and claw to just be labeled “guys” without them. They’re not quick, they’re not particularly skilled, and you can bet that at every chance Q will be rolling Toews’s line at them because they’ll almost never start in their defensive zone, while Q wouldn’t hesitate to send Toews out in his. This is a weak point.