Playoff teams needing crucial points find offense on defense
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Come the postseason, NHL teams need as much scoring as they can get. The Nashville Predators are ready to lean, yet again, on their defense for a little help in that department.
The Predators tied for the league's highest-scoring defense with 203 points, even after trading away Seth Jones in early January.
''It's been a big part of who we are all year,'' Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. ''I think you need contributions from everybody. But our guys have done a good job back there playing our system and being involved when they can.''
The Predators have plenty of company with high-scoring defensemen. Seven of the top nine teams in defensive points are in the playoffs: San Jose (179), Dallas and Los Angeles (174), Chicago (171) and the Rangers and Penguins (167), according to STATS.
''I think it's of the utmost importance that you have defensemen that can produce whether it's scoring or whether it's getting in on the play,'' Stars coach Lindy Ruff said.
Bringing a defenseman into the mix on the offensive zone makes it tougher to defend because the shot can come from a variety of angles.
Barrett Jackman says the Predators have been playing as a five-man unit up and down the ice all year long. That also allows Nashville to get a jump on playing defense to help keep the puck in the Predators' offensive zone.
''Go from defense and get up in the play,'' Jackman said. ''Usually, if you're up in the play it helps defensively, too, with gaps and breaking up plays.''
Getting points from defensemen helped Nashville earn the first wild-card berth in the Western Conference. Defenseman Roman Josi ranked second with 61 points for Nashville this season and captain Shea Weber was fifth with 51 points, including 20 goals. Mattias Ekholm added 35 points and Ryan Ellis had 32.
Nashville opens the playoffs Friday night at Anaheim, the Pacific Division champion. Sami Vatanen is the Ducks' top scoring defenseman with 38 points, while Hampus Lindholm led that unit with 10 goals.
Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said the Predators pose a big challenge.
''Their defense, even after getting rid of Jones, is still one of the most formidable offensive defenses in the league,'' Boudreau said. ''They have some really good skill up front. They play hard. They weren't far behind third place in a tough Central Division where they played all year. We have our hands full.''
The focus on scoring hasn't hurt Nashville's defense. The Predators allowed just 27.3 shots per game this season - fewest in the NHL - and Weber credits the depth of talent Nashville has on defense.
''That says a lot about the guys and how good they are,'' Weber said. ''A lot of people might not know about them because they're too young and they don't get the coverage. It definitely shows that everyone's capable.''
Center Mike Fisher said the Predators' defensemen have done an unbelievable job helping Nashville's offense.
''We hope that trend continues,'' Fisher said. ''We've got guys that play a lot of minutes back there that are great offensively. Those guys are a huge part of our team.''
And in the playoffs, scoring is at a premium.
''Up and down your line, you're going to need big people to step up and score big goals,'' Weber said.
AP Hockey Writer Greg Beacham and AP Sports Writer Stephen Hawkins contributed to this report.