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What the Vancouver Canucks can expect from the Nashville Predators in round one

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Tyson Cole
1 month ago
It’s official! The Vancouver Canucks don’t “have holidays in two days.”
With the Dallas Stars pushing their game against the St. Louis Blues to overtime on Wednesday night, it solidified that the Canucks’ first-round matchup would be against the Nashville Predators
It’s been a surprising season for both these teams. 
The Canucks clinched the playoffs for the first time since the 2020 bubble season after finishing 22nd in last year’s league standings. They did well enough to win the Pacific for the first time since the division was formed – and the first division title of any kind since they won five straight through the 2008-2013 seasons.
The Predators secured the top Wild Card spot after missing the postseason last year for the first time since the 2014-2015 season. The work that rookie general manager Barry Trotz did at this year’s trade deadline was nothing short of remarkable. He managed to sell the expiring players who held value on the market while still rewarding their players for their standout season by adding lower-valued impact players.
These two teams met three times this season; here are how those games went:
Oct. 24th – Vancouver Canucks 3 @ Nashville Predators 2
Oct. 31st – Nashville Predators 2 @ Vancouver Canucks 5
Dec. 19th – Vancouver Canucks 5 @ Nashville Predators 2
This resulted in a season series sweep from the Canucks, the first time they swept the Predators since 2019. But what do you notice from this?
All of these games were before the calendar flipped to the year 2024. This Predators team is much different than the last time the Canucks saw them. So what should the Canucks expect from this uplifted Predators team?

What the Canucks should expect from the Predators

It seems odd to say this, but the Predators’ season really turned around after the team cancelled the U2 concert they had scheduled in Vegas at the Sphere.
After the All-Star break, the Predators had a disappointing three-game home stand, finishing with a 1-2 record. In their final home game, they lost in embarrassing fashion, 9-2 to the Dallas Stars.
After this loss, head coach Andrew Brunette didn’t hold back from criticizing his team, saying they were too focused on vacations. Trotz would later cancel their plans for the U2 concert, and boy, did that wake the team up.
Following the shameful loss, Nashville went on an eight-game winning streak and collected points in 18 consecutive games, resulting in a 16-0-2 record. 
The Athletic’s Thomas Drance highlights Nashville’s impressive play since the All-Star Break. 
Through 31 games played since the break, Nashville finished with a 21-7-3 record, were third in the entire league in point percentage (.726%) over that stretch, sixth in the league in goals (115), and seventh in goals against (88). 
Vancouver finished 17-11-4 (with one game remaining as of the time of writing), with the 13th highest point percentage (.594%), 26th in goals for (91), and 11th in goals against (92) in 32 games played since the break. 
The Predators also win the special teams battle against the Canucks. 
Nashville has the league’s second-best powerplay percentage (27.2%) and the 18th-best penalty kill (77.6%). 
Vancouver ranks as the league’s seventh-worst powerplay percentage (18.1%) and the 20th-best penalty kill (77%). 
*All stats above are since the All-Star break.
Drance also highlights how these two teams are at controlling play at 5-on-5, so let’s look at that. 
With no log of time spent while possessing the puck, how do we try to analyze this? Well, with stats provided by NHL Edge, we can see teams’ offensive and defensive zone time percentages.
Vancouver spends 42.5% of their even strength time in the offensive zone, ranking in the 87th percentile (6th) and well above the league average. They spend 39.7% of their even strength time in the defensive zone, ranking in the 80th percentile (7th) and well below the league average. 
Nashville spends 43.3% of their even strength time in the offensive zone, ranking in the 90th percentile (5th) and well above the league average. They spend 37.4% of their even strength time in the defensive zone, ranking in the 93rd percentile (3rd) and well below the league average. 
So yeah, it’s safe to say that at even strength, both teams have been controlling play since the All-Star break. 
For all accounts, the Predators are one of the hottest teams coming into the playoffs.
And this isn’t an effort to try and sell the Canucks short; they’ve had a spectacular season thus far and held their own despite losing their starting goalie for 14 of their 32 games since the break. But the excitement from Canucks observers to face Nashville in the first round may not be as big of a benefit as initially thought. 
Now, let’s look into the players they’ll be up against.

Meet the Players

Here is how the Predators’ forward lines are constructed as of their final regular season game:
The Predators’ top line of Filip Forsberg, Ryan O’Reilly, and Gustav Nyquist is one of the most underrated in hockey. They’ve accumulated 238 points and are the only three Predators forwards with over 45 points this season (Forsberg 94, Nyquist 75 and O’Reilly 69). 
Outside of the big three, the Predators have decent depth scoring. Although, Tommy Novak is the only other forward to have more than 40 points. With 281 points outside of their big three, they rely on the top line for their offence. If that line gets shut down, they may be in trouble.
Physicality is a huge factor come playoff time, and a couple of Predators forwards aren’t shy to throw the body. Two members of the Predators’ fourth line, Kieffer Sherwood (214) and Cole Smith (208), rank in the top 13 forwards across the league in total hits this season. 
Now, let’s look into their defence core.
This defence core begins and ends with captain Roman Josi. The former Norris-trophy winner has led all defencemen since the All-Star break in goals (13) and points (40), edging out Quinn Hughes by eight goals and 11 points. Josi’s 85 points account for 44% of all points from Nashville defencemen this season. 
Let’s not forget about Josi’s partner, Ryan McDonagh. The two-time Stanley Cup champion has played an astonishing 185 playoff games and isn’t afraid to put his body on the line to block a shot. 
Talk about physicality; the Predators’ back end has two heavy hitters coming Vancouver’s way. Jeremy Lauzon not only leads the league in hits (359), but he also broke an NHL record for most hits in a single season. Not to mention former Canuck, Luke Schenn, who ranks eighth in the league in hits with 193. 
Now, to the goaltender.
Juuse Saros.
In my opinion, he is the make-or-break point for Nashville. 
While he fell just three wins shy of his career high with a 35-24-5 record, he’s statistically having the worst season of his career. He has a 2.86 goals against average (GAA) and a .906 save percentage (S%). 
However, his numbers since the All-Star break have been better. Saros has an impressive record of 16-5-3, with a 2.74 GAA and a .912 S%. Even with these improved numbers, they would still rank as his worst season. 
In his 10 career playoff games, Saros has a 3-7 record with a 3.0 GAA and a .908 S%. In his two starts against the Canucks this season, he’s 0-2 with a 5.2 GAA and a .835 S%. These are some unfortunate numbers against this year’s first-round opponent. 
So to answer the question, what can the Vancouver Canucks expect from the Nashville Predators?
Their lethal top line is going to be a problem. Despite this being their first year playing together, they have impressive chemistry that not many teams have been able to shut down. The depth scoring is less of an issue, but they have antagonizing, physical forwards who will be tough to play against.
Josi is playing what might be the best hockey of his already immaculate career. His high-level skating and shiftiness will be challenging to contain. The physicality of Lauzon and Schenn will also prove to be a difficult defence to get around. 
Goaltending is the biggest question mark. Saros has proven to be an elite goaltender, but his struggles this season could roll into the playoffs.
Nashville is one of the hottest teams entering this year’s playoffs, so don’t expect a cakewalk in the first round. Both teams have been dominating play recently. But if Vancouver can continue to limit their shots on goal against (allowing 26 per game, second lowest since the All-Star break) while inserting Thatcher Demko back into the lineup, may give them the upper hand in this series.
So what do you think Canucks fans? Are you happy with Nashville being their round-one opponent? And what’s your series prediction for round one? 
Playoff hockey is just around the corner. Get excited!

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