The defending Western Conference Champions present a unique set of challenges at Staples Center tonight as part of a Western Conference rivalry that has traditionally favored road teams. The Predators are 17-11-6 all-time in Los Angeles, while the Kings are 17-11-5 all-time in Nashville. It’s a match-up that often needs overtime to decide, with L.A. winning each of the last three meetings on home ice in the extra session. Five of the last 10 games at Staples Center have advanced past regulation.
The Predators have increased their scoring under Head Coach Peter Laviolette, averaging 2.80 goals over the 259 regular season games he’s coached, dating back to the start of 2014-15. Their power play has always been dangerous, whether with Shea Weber or any combination of specialists P.K. Subban, Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis, the latter of whom remains out long-term after undergoing knee surgery. Center Nick Bonino, signed to a four-year contract after defeating the Predators in the Stanley Cup Final, may be nearing a return but remains on injured reserve with a lower-body injury. He suffered a broken left tibia after blocking a Subban shot in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.
The numbers will eventually smooth out, but one challenge for the Predators this season has been their ability to create chances in five-on-five play. Nashville’s 219 scoring chances at five-on-five, per Natural Stat Trick, ranks 30th in the league, while their 16 goals rank last.
At today’s media availability, Los Angeles Head Coach John Stevens spoke about the Predators’ special teams play, which is bound to have an impact in tonight’s game. Nashville’s power play, even without Ellis, has gotten off to a strong start and ranks seventh in the league with a 23.3% success rate. Their penalty kill ranks 11th, though the Predators have not helped themselves out with an NHL-worst average of 16.1 penalty minutes per game. Even if that’s a somewhat misleading statistic influenced by Cody McLeod’s three major penalties and two misconducts, Nashville has still been shorthanded for 96:51 this season, the third highest penalty killing total in the league.
John Stevens, on the Nashville Predators:
My take on Nashville is they’re a really hardworking team. I thought they played four lines more than they did in the San Jose game. But they’ve got lots of speed up front. Their lines are different. Some teams have all lines look the same. Their lines are different as you move through the lineup, whether you’ve got a real high-end line up top, and then they’ve got a couple speed-skill lines, and they’ve got a big, heavy line with McLeod and Watson. Obviously, I think their defense is a huge part of their team. I’d put ‘em right up there with Columbus in terms of how important their defense is in terms of their ability to control the game with their feet. Depending who plays in net, Pekka Rinne is one of the top puckhandling goalies, which is a huge help in terms of breaking the puck out.
Stevens, on how Nashville’s power play has evolved:
It’s a pretty good power play, to be honest with you. They’ve got two good units. They’ve scored nine five-on-four goals, but they’ve got four that’ve come from six-on-four, six-on-three, five-on-three, so they’ve got a lot of production from some specialty areas. They had the one game against Philadelphia where the off-side was challenged. They scored a five-on-three, the goal stood up, and they went back on the five-on-three, so it was kind of a little bit of an oddity, I guess, you would say, but you can see why their power play has had success. They do a good job of establishing the puck at top-middle, and they attack off the tips with some really dangerous shooters off the tips and they’ve committed to a guy at the net. So, I would say it’s a really volume power play that’s going to attack the net with numbers, and to me, that’s a good remedy for success. But they’ve got two units with several different options of high-end shooters. Forsberg off the tip, Smith off the tip, Subban of the tip, Arvidsson off the tip, so they’ve got several dangerous shooters that can put some shots from quality ice, even when you’re doing a good job.
-Lead photo via Jared Silber/NHLI