When the puck drops on Friday night at Bridgestone Arena, the Nashville Predators will face an angry Detroit Red Wings team. Nashville took game one of the Western Conference quarterfinals by a 3-2 score, but were outplayed in the second half of the contest and clearly lost the special teams battle.
The Predators went 0 for 6 on the man advantage Wednesday night. Detroit scored both of their goals on the power play, despite having a less than stellar power play during the regular season, ranked 22nd overall with a 16.1 percent success rate. Nashville, in contrast, had the number one ranked power play in the League, but couldn’t capitalize on their chances during game one.
But Detroit’s frustration won’t simply be about losing to the Predators. Close games between Nashville and the Red Wings in the post season are commonplace. After all, ten of the 13 post-season games between the Predators and Red Wings have been decided by two goals or fewer.
Detroit will be angry because Nashville captain Shea Weber will be in the lineup for the Predators. At the end of the game on Wednesday, Weber was hit from behind with a cross check by Henrik Zetterberg. In retaliation, Weber not only shoved the Detroit star, but then took his head and smashed it against the boards.
Weber was fined $2,500, but was not suspended. Brendan Shanahan said one factor in making the decision was that Zetterberg was not hurt on the play. USA Today reported after practice on Thursday that Zetterberg thought the hit was dirty and wanted to see the League do something about it. Teammates such as Captain Nicklas Lidstrom, Johan Franzen and Tomas Holmstrom all spoke to the media about their disappointment in the League decision.
Detroit Head Coach Mike Babcock said the Red Wings were not equipped to retaliate against Weber and would focus their efforts on winning game two on Friday night.
The disappointment in the lack of punishment for Weber will no doubt motivate the Red Wings. Nashville cannot afford to take undisciplined penalties in game two. The Predators will need to return to the type of play that made them the least penalized team in the League this season. If Nashville can stay disciplined, the other keys to winning Friday night’s game will be easier to achieve.
For the Predators to take a 2-0 lead in their series, Pekka Rinne will again need to outshine Detroit netminder Jimmy Howard. The top-six forwards will need to bury their chances. Finally, Nashville will also need to win the special teams battle, not only getting the power play going but also returning to form on the penalty kill and taking control of the faceoff circle.
Rinne boasts a 2.00 GAA and a .946 save percentage in contrast to Jimmy Howard’s 3.05 GAA and .885 save percentage. Rinne impressed the most in the third period when Detroit was trying to get back into the game. Rinne made sprawling saves that seemed improbable, prompting the sold-out crowd at Bridgestone Arena to chant “Pekka.”
While not being able to score on the power play is difficult enough, the Predators top-six forwards were not Nashville’s best forwards. While depth is important in winning contests in the playoffs, so is having the stars of a particular team showing up. The line of Sergei Kostitsyn, Mike Fisher and Marty Erat will be expected to provide the Predators with the consistent offense received from the trio that was enjoyed all season. Between the three forwards, each registered one shot on goal on Wednesday night.
Detroit had a slight edge on Nashville with a 52-48 percent advantage in the faceoff circle during game one. Paul Gaustad, who scored his first career playoff goal, as well as his first tally as a Predator, won 12 and lost 8 faceoffs for a 60 percent win rate.
The Predators will try to maintain home-ice advantage in the series by taking a 2-0 game lead on Friday night. The series will swing over to Detroit on Sunday and against on Tuesday. Friday’s game has a 6:30 pm start time.