NHL playoffs: Sharks vs. Predators Game 4 keys
The Nashville Predators are down two games to one as they get set to host San Jose in Game 4 on Thursday night (9:00 ET; CNBC, SN, TVAS2), but they know what it'll take to get the series evened up: more of what they brought in Game 3.
The Preds have carried the play through much of the series to this point, but were especially dominant in a 4–1 win on Tuesday night. They were clearly the quicker team and were more aggressive in the offensive end, scoring more goals than in their previous nine playoff games.
As a result, they feel like they're carrying momentum with them into this swing game.
"We thought we played a whale of a game [in Game 2], and we just kind of continued that same energy,” Predators forward Colton Sissons said. “We got rewarded with a couple more bounces and goals. We have to keep playing with that same kind of jump going forward.”
Here are some thoughts ahead of Game 4:
• No one should point fingers at San Jose goalie Martin Jones for that Game 3 loss, but it's a fact that three of Nashville's four goals beat him high glove. And it's clear that, given time, that's where the Preds shooters see opportunity.
No goalie is stopping every shot that's labeled for the top corner, but his job only becomes tougher when his D is being outworked. Both the first and fourth goals were a direct result of soft coverage on the penalty kill allowing the Preds to pick their spots (no one was stopping Shea Weber's game winner, so that's a mulligan). That puts the onus on San Jose to be quicker to the puck in the defensive zone in Game 4, but it's also on Jones to recognize and respond to a possible trouble area.
• It's also on the Sharks to tighten up their discipline. San Jose took six penalties in Game 3 and it cost them those two goals. A team that struggled on the PK all season (80.5%) can't survive if there's a conga line to the box.
• The fancy stats suggest that Game 3 was evenly matched at five-on-five (38 attempts to 36 in favor of the Sharks) but the eye test gave a clear edge to the Preds. The key: Limiting the Sharks' entries and offensive zone time. When Nashville did allow chances on goalie Pekka Rinne, it kept San Jose's attackers to the perimeter and forced them to settle for low-risk shots. War On Ice credited the Sharks with generating a single high-danger scoring chance at evens and two in total. That's a fair reflection of how effectively Nashville executed in its own zone, and could force San Jose to make some changes up front in an effort to counter.
• It looks like Mike Ribeiro will be a healthy scratch again in Game 4. The veteran center was one of the last off the ice at the team's practice this morning, an indication that he'll be watching this one from the press box.
Ribeiro's a unique talent. His hockey sense, passing skill and poise under pressure helps bring out the best in his linemates—just look at what Filip Forsberg and Craig Smith did with his help this season. But he's also a player whose game can go south in a hurry, and who can drag others down with him. He hasn't been particularly effective so far this spring, tallying one assist and a –3 rating through nine games. But with the Preds needing to put more pressure on Jones, it might be Ribeiro's hesitation to shoot that'll keep him on the sidelines. He has just seven shots through those nine games. That's down from the regular season, when he averaged just .94 shots per game.
His replacement, rookie Pontus Aberg, brings game-breaking skill and speed to the lineup. And he's not afraid to shoot the puck. The 22-year-old had 25 goals for AHL Milwaukee this season. That gives coach Peter Laviolette a little more flexibility and forces the Sharks to defend a more active threat.