Analyzing how the Vancouver Canucks beat the Nashville Predators in all three meetings this season

Photo credit:© Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
7 days ago
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The Vancouver Canucks may be one of the NHL’s Canadian franchises, but this postseason, they’re going full Dutch.
Because they’re facing off against the Predator(s).
Up until a few days ago, the Canucks still had multiple potential playoff opponents on the board, including the Predators, the Los Angeles Kings, and the Vegas Golden Knights. But the only one of the set that the Canucks had a winning record against in 2023/24 was Nashville, who they went 3-0 against.
Now, it is worth mentioning right off the bat that all three of the Canucks’ victories against the Predators this season came before the new year, and well before the Predators went on their nigh-legendary 20-5-3 run to end the year.
It’s probably fair to say that the Predators the Canucks will be facing in the playoffs is a different beast than the one they took down with great efficiency some months ago – but more on that in a column to come shortly.
In the meantime, there’s still plenty of value in breaking down just how the Canucks were able to beat the Predators three times already this season, with the obvious hopes that there’s some clues to be found about how the Canucks might manage four more victories over them in the weeks to come.
The first matchup occurred way back on October 24, a point at which the Canucks were 3-2-0 on the young season and had no idea what a wagon they were about to become. In keeping with that, this first victory was a modest one to the tune of 3-2.
Ilya Mikheyev and Phil Di Giuseppe picked up their first goals of the season, and Nils Höglander got his second, which proved to be the game-winner.
This was a game in which all goals were scored at even-strength, with the Canucks killing off three penalties to the Predators’ one. The Canucks outshot the Preds 24-18 and out-hit them 27-24, but trailed in other categories like faceoffs and blocked shots.
Thatcher Demko only had to make 16 saves en route to victory.
The underlying picture, however, is not that of a narrow win. Instead, it’s a picture of the Canucks slowly but surely taking over control of a game.
The gameflow charts tell a nice visual story all their own…
From NaturalStatTrick
…as do the numbers themselves. A 65.56% control of Corsi, a 62.22% control of scoring chances, a 57.14% control of high-danger chances.
Placed under this light, this particular matchup appears to be less a close battle and more a case of Nashville goaltender Jusse Saros keeping his team in the game.
Despite that, and without any of their big guns scoring, the Canucks still found a way to win.
The two teams met again a week later on Halloween, and naturally, the Predators seemed a little more spooked on this occasion.
Now firmly rolling, the Canucks smashed Nashville with a score of 5-2, largely on the strength of an Elias Pettersson hattrick. Sam Lafferty opened the scoring with his second, and JT Miller also notched his team-leading fifth goal of the season.
The tale of this game is one in which the Canucks fell behind 2-1 by the end of the first, and then stormed back to take control with a dominant second period…or at least that’s what the scoresheet says.
The underlying stats tell an entirely different story. In that second period, as Pettersson was tying the score and then putting the Canucks ahead, the Predators were actually the ones dominating the Canucks at 5v5. The Predators held a ridiculous 81.82% of the scoring chances in the second period, and yet did not score as the Canucks scored twice.
On this front alone, we have to give Demko ample credit for this victory.
The gameflow charts tell the same story, with Nashville being the ones to take over the game as it progressed. But as they were taking over, they weren’t scoring, and the Canucks were:
From NaturalStatTrick
A potent enough reminder that expected goals aren’t the same as actual goals.
Where the Canucks did succeed in this October 31 matchup, however, were in three key areas. The Canucks won 61.7% of the faceoffs in this game, largely on the strength of Miller going 9-5.
The Canucks also significantly cranked up the physicality in this one, out-hitting the Predators by 32-20. When that physicality went a bit too far, the Canucks were then ready to kill off four penalties, while cashing in on a power play of their own.
Nashville generated more scoring chances in this game, but the Canucks beat them in every other facet.
After that, the two teams took a break from one another, not meeting again until the holidays on December 19. This was a repeat 5-2 victory, bringing the Canucks to 3-0 against the Nashville with a cumulative score of 13-6.
So, if you’re looking for the short answer to the headline topic, it’s that.
But this last pre-playoff matchup was a tighter affair than it appeared, and one that the Canucks had to battle to control – but did!
Pettersson opened up the scoring with his 13th of the season, followed 31 seconds later by Nils Åman’s first. Höglander, Pius Suter, and Teddy Blueger all added markers of their own.
Here, the stats were much tighter. They outshot Nashville 35-28, but Nashville out-hit them 28-22.
The Canucks won only 55.4% of the faceoffs, a step down from the last effort.
The PIMs look out of whack, but only because Michael McCarron picked up 22 of them in one silly incident where he tried to get Dakota Joshua to fight.
Here, the gameflow tells a very different story than the past two…
From NaturalStatTrick
…a story of the Canucks having weathered a couple of storms as the Predators tried desperately to catch up. The Preds made notable pushes in the second and late in the third, but backup Casey DeSmith and the Canucks stood tall.
So, the answer to how the Canucks have beat the Predators three times already in 2023/24 is that they’ve really beat them in three different ways.
That first 3-2 victory on October 24 was their slimmest margin of victory, but their most dominant according to the fancy stats, and one in which the Canucks demonstrably controlled.
The Predators turned that control back against them on October 31, but the Canucks somehow walked away with a 5-2 win all the same, largely on the strength of Demko.
But then Demko’s backup took another 5-2 win in December, this time a back-and-forth affair in which the Canucks weathered a couple stints of serious pressure from the Predators, and then went right back to taking over the game and filling the net.
Efficient scoring. Excellent goaltending. Reasonable but consistent physicality. Winning faceoffs.
These are the ways in which the Canucks went 3-0 against Nashville in the 2023/24 regular season.
The series stats tell the story of two fairly evenly-matched teams. Despite the 13-6 score discrepancy, the Canucks only held a 55.38% control of the shots against Nashville overall this year, and actually trailed in measures like Corsi (49.82%), expected goals (47.72%), scoring chances (48.92%), and especially high-danger chances (45.10%).
But if those numbers worry you, worry not. The 13-6 on the scoreboard is what really counts, as is the fact that the Canucks found three different ways to achieve victory against a team that probably should have been able to steal at least one away from them.
Again, all of these numbers are now at least four months old, and the Predators seem like a brand-new team these days – but that’s a story for another column.
For now, we can bask in the glow of a 3-0 record against a Round One opponent heading into the playoffs, and feel reasonably confident about the Canucks’ chances of extending that record.
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