Paterson’s Point: Playoff Predators a familiar foe for Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Paterson
8 days ago
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The last time Rick Tocchet opened the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Nashville Predators were his first round opponent.
Back in the summer of 2020, Tocchet was behind the bench of the Arizona Coyotes and drew the Preds in the opening round of the summer bubble postseason in Edmonton. Back then, Tocchet and his Coyotes were the underdogs opening the tournament as the 11th seed in the West and going up against the 5th ranked Predators.
On the strength of a Brad Richardson overtime goal, the Coyotes pulled off the upset and eliminated the Preds in four games in their best of five play-in series. Arizona was then summarily bounced from the playoffs in five games in the following round as the ‘Yotes ran into the Colorado Avalanche. Still, Tocchet has some degree of a track record of success against Nashville. While his job situation has changed, he’s hoping history repeats itself as the 2024 playoffs get underway this weekend.

Ryan No’Reilly?

Ryan O’Reilly is as decorated as they come. A Stanley Cup champion, a Conn Smythe winner and a Selke Award winner, too. The veteran centre in his first year with the Predators has seen and done just about everything in the sport – except score goals against the Vancouver Canucks. For some reason, O’Reilly has struggled mightily to put the puck in the net against the Canucks over his decorated career which spans 15 seasons and 1073 regular season games.
In that time, the 33-year-old has scored exactly one goal in 46 games against the Canucks. It came on a power play in a 4-2 St. Louis Blues win at Rogers Arena in March of 2022. And it came against Thatcher Demko. But that’s it. That is the extent of O’Reilly’s goal-scoring through the years against the Canucks. He has 1+18=19 in the 46 games he’s played against the Canucks. For context and comparison, O’Reilly has 16+20=36 goals in 47 career games against the Edmonton Oilers.
Now, it’s important to note these are regular season numbers only. O’Reilly did make his mark in the 2020 playoff match-up between the Canucks and defending Cup champion St. Louis Blues. That summer, O’Reilly scored four times and added four assists in six games. So regular season Ryan O’Reilly hasn’t had much success against the Canucks. Playoff O’Reilly has shown he can be a much different performer and one the Canucks will need to be wary of when this series begins on Sunday.

Crash Course

Don’t expect either the Canucks or Predators to ease their way into this opening round battle. Based on the regular season statistics, this has the potential to be one of the most physical series to start the playoffs. The Canucks finished the season fourth in the league in hits (2178) while the Predators were fifth (2149). That’s an average of more than 26 hits per game for both teams. Taking it a step further, this series features the league’s leading hitter in Preds defenceman Jeremy Lauzon, who punished opponents 383 times in the 79 games he played.
That was 57 hits more than Philadelphia’s Garnet Hathaway who was second in the league at 326. It was also 137 more than the next closest defenceman in the league – Toronto’s Simon Benoit who had 246. Beyond Lauzon, the Preds had two others in the top 15 of the league in hits in forwards Cole Smith (235) and Keifer Sherwood (234) while veteran Luke Schenn dished out 202 hits this season. For the Canucks, Dakota Joshua wound up ninth in the league this season with 246 hits – in just 63 games. JT Miller was second on the club with 217.

Getting their Fil

The Canucks clearly have to keep an eye on Preds sniper Filip Forsberg. His career-best 48 goals should certainly have Vancouver’s attention. But go a little deeper than that impressive goal total which left him behind only five others goal scorers over the course of the regular season. Since the All Star break, Forsberg scored 24 times in 31 games with 10 of those goals coming on the power play. Only Auston Matthews (29) and Kirill Kaprizov (27) scored more goals league-wide since the break and only Kaprizov (12) and Leon Draisatl (11) cashed in more with the man-advantage over that span.
On the season, Forsberg was credited with 347 shots on goal which was fifth in the league. That was a whopping 100 more shots than his previous career high. He moved up a spot after the All Star break with his 114 shots placing him fourth in the league. And Forsberg has a knack for making his goals count. His 11 game-winners led the Predators and had him tied for second in the NHL one behind Tampa’s Brayden Point.

Man Down

Special teams always have the potential to swing a playoff series. With that in mind, keep an eye on the penalty killing in this series. Neither team was particularly strong while short-handed this season, but the Canucks have a slight edge. Vancouver finished the season with the 17th ranked penalty kill in the NHL at 79.1% while the Preds were 22nd at 76.9%. But it gets worse for the Preds, who struggled to kill penalties on the road.
Nashville was 27th in the league while short-handed, as the visitors successfully killed penalties at 73.9%. In terms of raw goals surrendered, the two teams were close. The Canucks gave up 53 power play goals while the Predators allowed 57. Both teams scored seven short-handed goals. On the power play, the Canucks have a slight edge based on regular season production converting at 22.7% while the Preds operated at 21.6% this season.
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