What a bizarre Stanley Cup Final.
Through the first two games, the Nashville Predators outplayed the Pittsburgh Penguins fairly significantly, yet came up empty handed. Pekka Rinne was bit by the regression bug. The Predators go home and the gap in performance tightens, but Matt Murray suffers a similar crash.
The Penguins, although reeling, should feel some optimism because Sidney Crosby had his best game of the series in Game 4 after being silenced through the first three. Carrying a .397 expected goal differential heading into Monday night, Crosby was fairly dominant registering a .697 differential in Game 4 as the Penguins carried the territorial play for the first time in the series and forced Rinne into only 75% clear sight, likely his best performance of the playoffs.
Up to that point, the Predators had plenty of success defending the Pittsburgh captain through the dominant play of defenseman Roman Josi.
When Josi has been on the ice at even strength in the Stanley Cup Final, the Predators have had a significant territorial edge.
If we look at the Predators on-ice even strength shot metrics with Josi, we can see they are carrying the play. While Josi is on the ice, the Predators have a 60% goal differential advantage. In addition, 60% of the high quality plays favor the Predators, a number that was over 70% through the first three games. These are strong numbers, but are more impressive when we account for his quality of competition.
Josi has been matched fairly consistently against Crosby and has been a major factor in Sid’s struggles. Breaking even would be the goal, any nudge towards a positive differential is a major victory for the Preds.
When Josi has been on the ice with Crosby, Phil Kessel or Evgeni Malkin at even strength during the series, the Penguins haven’t been able to push the play. When matched up against those three, the Predators have more slot line passes (2 to 1), more deflections (1 to 0), more high danger shots (10 to 6), medium danger shots (6 to 5), as well as dominating the possession numbers with a low danger shot advantage of 18 to 11.
When you take into account that P.K. Subban is also pushing the play forward when he is on the ice with a .570 expected goal differential, the Penguins offense has been totally reliant on abusing Yannick Weber. This is a significant problem when he is only on the ice for eight to 12 minutes per game.
Overall, the Predators likely should be up 3-1, but a series isn’t cumulative and exists in seven different installments. The totals are extremely slanted by the outlier, which was Game 1. Since the opener, the series has been more closely contested territorially.
While the Predators still enjoy the volume advantage, the Penguins have been able to close the gap with quality. More high danger, more pre-shot movement and a more respectable .471 expected goal differential.
The question over the final three games is whether the Pens will be able to overcome Nashville’s top four defenders and push the play effectively like they did in Game 4. If the goaltending can remain relatively equal, I prefer the Predators matchups and metrics as the favorite to prevail in the best of three.