Greetings from Nashville, where the Predators will take a 2-1 series lead over the Ducks into Game 4 of their Western Conference final series Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena. Also on the line is the Predators’ six-game home winning streak in this season’s playoffs and a 10-game postseason home winning streak that stretches back to last spring. Game 5 will be played on Saturday at Honda Center,
Any discussion of the Predators’ success invariably includes a mention of the mobility of their defensemen and the offensive contributions their defensemen provide. Many teams have one or two defensemen who can skate and are good with the puck, but few are as deep in that regard as the Predators, who are expanding a league-wide trend toward finding and developing defensemen who can contribute at both ends of the ice.
“There's been more attention, I think, in the last, probably three or four years about defensemen that are mobile,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. “There's been, I guess, a couple of movements. That would be one of them. There's been talk of how do you acquire a young, puck-moving skating defensemen, a mobile defenseman, somebody who can add to the offense and bring that dynamic.”
Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis each scored 10 points in Nashville’s first 13 playoff games and are offensive catalysts when they jump up into the play — and often lead it. The ability to deploy defensemen that way has become a deliberate and valuable part of Laviolette’s strategy.
“We're fortunate, we've got good skating, skilled defensemen,” he said. “And we try to work at our plan through the course of the year on how we want to play and the identity we're trying to create. And I think our guys have a pretty good handle on it right now.”
The Predators’ six defensemen contributed one goal and nine points in the first three games of the West finals, including Josi’s game-winning goal in Nashville’s 2-1 victory over the Ducks on Tuesday. Overall, they have amassed 10 goals and 36 points in the playoffs. “I wouldn’t say it’s a hard system to play, but you’ve got to put the work in within the system to make it successful,” Ellis said. “If each guy, to a man, puts that work in, you see the results you’ll generate from it not only offensively but defensively. It makes for a good system if everyone’s working.”
Josi said defensive responsibilities remain the top priority for him and his fellow defensemen, but he enjoys having the green light to become part of the attack. “If there’s a chance we will jump up and join the rush and make something happen in the offensive zone, too,” he said. “Our system allows us to do that, but our main focus is always to play as a unit of five — five guys on defense and five guys on offense.”
But the Ducks’ defensemen aren’t far behind either in their skating ability or in their postseason point production.
The six defensemen who played in this series scored two goals and eight points in the first three games, and the eight defensemen who appeared in the Ducks’ first 14 playoff games combined to produce five goals and 35 points. Like the Predators, the Ducks are taking the trend to a higher level.
“That’s the way that it seems like it’s going. Everybody is pretty mobile,” said Brandon Montour, who earned six assists in the Ducks’ first 14 playoff games. “Obviously, you see it in Nashville and how good of a skating club, group of six, that they have, and I feel like we’re the same way. All six can skate, and when we have a chance to play offense we’d rather be in their zone than in our own.
“When the chance is there, you go, but you’ve also got to play hard and get the puck and move quick in your own end first.”