2017 NHL Stanley Cup Finals Prospectus: Nashville Predators vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
The Cup will be in the building either in PPG Paints Arena or Bridgestone Arena. We will conclude what has been one of the more exciting — if not surprising in many ways — seasons in recent memory in the NHL. Will it be the champions from 2016, in the Pittsburgh Penguins, or the first-time Stanley Cup Final visitors, the Nashville Predators?
Let’s get right to it.
You know what you are going to get from the Pens offensively. Sidney Crosby can play on a line with anyone; whether it be Connor Sheary, Jake Guentzel, even a slug like Chris Kunitz, who scored two goals (including the series-clinching goal vs. Ottawa in the Eastern Conference Finals) and be productive. The same goes for Evgeni Malkin, whose line mates are juggled quite often (although Phil Kessel is a constant). The “HBK” line was not going to sneak up on anyone like last year, and Kessel has skated more with Malkin than Nick Bonino and Carl Hagelin — who missed a good chunk of the final month of the regular season and first half of the playoffs.
The fourth line of cagey veteran Matt Cullen, Bryan Rust and whoever Mike Sullivan believes best suits that line on a given night (albeit mostly due to massive injuries) rounds out the forward group.
What you don’t know is what you will get from the Pens defence. It has been mediocre at best, to downright ghastly at its worst at times in every series thus far. It bled shots against Columbus (who simply could not finish, as they got no puck luck and Marc-Andre Fleury was just as lucky as he was good all series), it bled even more shots for all seven games against Washington and somehow Fleury’s combination of being good and extremely lucky resulted in an odd number of posts, crossbars and guys missing point blank shots. Against Ottawa, the Sens were smothered as Sullivan went to a heavy forechecking/relentless pressure approach as the series wore on. It took its toll on the Sens, who blew a golden opportunity to put a stranglehold on the series and eventually ran out of gas in double overtime in Game 7.
They have to be better against Nashville, whose defence runs circles around the Pens’ in all three zones (particularly when the Preds play a 1-3-1 neutral zone trap, which they are sometimes wont to do). Are the Pens blue liners capable of being better in a series where time and space will be at more of a premium than any of their previous series thus far in the playoffs? They better be, for the Pens’ sake.
Who will start for the Pens? Mike Sullivan loves to employ gamesmanship, and probably won’t announce his starter until game day. It will almost certainly be Matt Murray, though.
Murray has been solid for the most part since taken over Marc-Andre Fleury, who had a nightmare midway through the conference finals. It was bound to happen for “MAF.” He had a pedestrian-to-almost bad regular season statistically, and somehow stood on his head all playoffs until that point. Murray backstopped the Pens last year during their playoff run, and there is a level of comfort the Pens seem to have with Murray in goal. He won’t have it easy against the pound-pound-pound Preds; the type of approach that has made Murray look bad in losses and shaky even when he did not surrender shots that were “labeled” to find the back of the net — like the end of Game 4, where the Sens were relentlessly peppering Murray with shots and simply ran out of time late — which will be what he will be up against with his defence bleeding shots in front of him. He will have to stand on his head again like last playoffs in order for the Pens to hoist the Cup once more.
The Preds took three major blows to their forward group during these playoffs. First, they lost speedy winger Kevin Fiala in the conference semifinals against St. Louis in what was a freak collision into the end boards. A broken leg resulted. Though the Preds won the series, it tested their depth to a degree against the Ducks. Later in the Ducks series, centre Mike Fisher suffered what many believed to be a concussion during a collision with Ducks defenceman Josh Manson, who looked like a second-baseman turning a double play with a baserunner bearing down to break up the play; kneeing Fisher in the head as he leaped over a pile of bodies in a desperate attempt to clear the puck in front of John Gibson. A tough break for the Preds, who still overcame Fisher’s absence to win the series.
The injury that causes some questions where there would erstwhile be few heading into this series is the one suffered by Ryan Johansen. Johansen took (and dished out just as much of) a beating while matched up with Ducks centre Ryan Kesler for the most part in the conference semis. However, it was a rather innocuous knee to Johansen’s upper leg which led to compartment syndrome — necessitating emergency surgery and thereby ending his season — that actually did him in.
Fisher is likely to play when the Final begins, and Colton Sissons — who helped seal the series versus Anaheim with a hat trick, and played top line minutes in that Game 6 — will be ready. Youngster Frederick Gaudreau has stepped in admirably to help down the middle. The Preds still have plenty of forward depth, and Craig Smith should also be available for the series, as well. Despite the craftiness and sly tactics of Crosby and Malkin, the Preds are not at a decided disadvantage down the middle or on the wings.
Filip Forsberg was dominant against Anaheim. Guentzel, who is tied with the Ducks’ Jakob Silfverberg in playoff goals with nine, has tailed off since the conference semis. In fact, he was barely visible for much of the series against Ottawa. For all that Guentzel did versus Columbus and Washington, Forsberg did just as much as Guentzel had in the first two rounds in the back end of the St. Louis series and throughout the Anaheim series alone, following his typical slow start in playoffs. Viktor Arvidsson will have more room to operate against the leaky Pens D, as well.
Smith, Colin Wilson, a mixture of Harry Zolnierczyk/P.A. Parenteau and Austin Watson are good depth players who do the dirty work in each zone. The keys to this series for the Preds up front will be the play of Forsberg, Arvidsson, former Pens winger James Neal and the aforementioned centres. If the Preds can hold serve on draws, they will be in good position.
The Preds boast the best defence in the NHL. We said the Capitals did during the regular season, and metrics backed that up, but the Caps D went to mush immediately once the playoffs began. The Preds shut down, shut out and swept the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, stifled the Blues (Preds are 7-0 went leading after the 2nd period in these playoffs; while employing a mixture of pressure and neutral zone tactics), and matched the nastiness that the Ducks are known for with their own brand of physical hockey, while displaying skill at key moments. This was something that the Ducks could not match; despite a decided advantage down the middle with all-world Ryan Getzlaf and Kesler on the last change in the home games (Ducks had home ice advantage). Kesler turned into a fourth line-type player and left his offence at home, which is where he is today as a result.
The Preds won’t get any shifts off against Crosby, Malkin, Bonino or Cullen’s lines, but they are the team best equipped to slow down the Pens, while generating offence of their own.
The first pairing of Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis combine speed, skill, coverage and high hockey IQ to limit opponents shots on goal, while generating a great deal of offence themselves. Josi serves as both the quarterback for the first power play unit and a sniper on his off hand side, as well. It will be intriguing to watch this pairing face Crosby (mostly) and Malkin (occasionally).
Also facing those two lines, and occasionally the Bonino line (barring last changes by Sullivan in the Pens’ home games), Mattias Ekholm — who has been stellar by every metric these playoffs — and the electric P.K. Subban contribute the same qualities that Josi and Ellis provide, but are bigger and more physical, as well. Ekholm is 6’4″ 215, and Subban is 6′ 215. The Pens, when they do manage the neutral zone, will still have a time against this pairing. Matt Irwin and Yannick Weber have been a steady third pair that doesn’t “beat” their team.
Pekka Rinne has been the best goalie in these playoffs. He will need to maintain that level of play for the Preds, because the Pens are sneaky in the offensive zone. Rinne, when he did surrender goals against the Ducks, did so on shots that the Pens love to attempt from all types of angles. On one hand, the long layoff (a week) should figure to help the 34-year old netminder, but when you’ve been going as well as Rinne (1.70 GAA, .941 SV% in playoffs, following 2.42/.918 regular season) you almost want to get back to it as soon as possible.
Peter Laviolette is the best coach in the NHL right now. Mike Sullivan is gaining steam with his historic run since taking over behind the Penguins’ bench 18 months ago. Both coaches have won Stanley Cups. Sullivan’s done it with a stacked roster. Laviolette did it with a bunch of savvy veterans and young players such as Eric Staal and goalie Cam Ward in Carolina in 2006. He’s also led the Philadelphia Flyers to the Stanley Cup Final in 2010 and now has the Preds here, as well. He knows what he is doing.
The Preds will be ready.
CALL: NASHVILLE IN 6.
Letter to My Future Wife
One of the things I want you to know is that whether I have known you for years and didn’t realize you were “the one”, have recently met you, or have yet to meet you, that you are fortunate to have not married me before now. I would have destroyed your life when I was in my late 20s and into my early 30s. My own life was in shambles during that time, and despite longing for what my parents have enjoyed for 40 years now, I was ill-prepared to receive such a gift from God without tarnishing you.
In addition to circumstances that were beyond my control for quite some time, I made some brutally awful decisions concerning my choices in women, along with some reckless lifestyle with a good number of them. This is no slight on them, it is more about my own lack of prescience and discipline. If anything, those decisions have delayed things from manifesting in my life in other areas, but we are all a work in progress.
That said, the accumulation of those decisions, along with the trials and tribulations that everyone inevitably faces, has provided me with the ability to develop virtues that I would have never erstwhile developed. Until I was age 28, I had not gone through any struggle whatsoever in my adult life. Imagine what would have happened had I gotten married (even if I understood then, and just better now, what marriage is ultimately about) at that time? I would have eventually screwed up the situation and likely ruined what might have been a good woman.
Fast forward a decade, and, armed with the knowledge and wisdom that I have gained, I have become well-rounded, solidified my emotional intelligence, become more cognizant of everything around me and how my actions affect others. Before my late 20s, I had not been given any real reason to think this way. In other words, God saved me from myself. This is why we are better off not leaning to our own understanding. Our sight lines are limited and often times we make decisions not realizing the ramifications are not always what we bargained for.
Ultimately, because of what trials and struggle have developed in me, I am able to say with full confidence that I will always be there for you. Of the virtues I have developed, patience has increased manifold. The reckless lifestyle got old quickly once I entered my 30s and makes cheating of zero concern. I know I am not missing anything out here “in the field.” However, I have always been this way. If I was in a relationship, I may have noticed and occasionally did a double take if an ultra-fine woman crossed my path, but I never cheated and can say with 100% confidence that I never will. Whenever I value something or someone, I guard it with my life and cherish it (or you, in this case) with the utmost regard. Otherwise, I’d remain single.
I will treat you as my equal, my teammate, the source of wisdom for me whenever I am lacking. I will respect your opinions and perspectives on matters, even if we do not always agree, I know that if I saw enough virtue within you, that knowledge and wisdom would be among those things (beyond looks) and that I could trust your judgment, rather than fighting you and desiring to always be “right.” I promise to be amenable to change and malleable when it comes to parenting techniques, handling finances, and planning for the future. Much like I require from you, I have a distinct and wide-ranging purpose and plan for my life. I will continually work toward it with your help and will do the same equally to help you bring your vision to fruition, as well.
Yes, I will show you off every chance I get. Not because you are some object to lust after, but because I cherish a great gift that God has given me. I believe you are worth it. Some women will be jealous of the way I treat you, but hey, that’s how it should be. If someone is proud to have something or someone, they tend to want to show the world how much they appreciate having that thing or, in this case, that woman.
When you are tired, I will pick up the slack. When you are sick, I will make sure you are comforted and able to mend quicker. When you are frustrated, I will be a listening ear and a stabilizing force for you. When you are upset with me, know beforehand that whatever I have done wasn’t with the intent to cause you anger or harm, and let’s agree to discuss things as we know we are equipped and capable to do so; rather than to fight and have things escalate into the dreaded “irreconcilable differences.”
I will utilize the necessary prescience to not put you and our future children in harm’s way, and use that same prescience to be proactive about situations that will allow us to benefit as a family, rather than reacting to everything in life, as others often make the mistake of doing.
When you are sad, I will be your comforter. Communication is key; if not central to any healthy, long-lasting marriage. I understand this and promise to provide said communication. Effectively. It goes both ways and I expect the same in return, whether you are sad, angry, at odds with me, have a difficult decision to make or whatever your concerns may be. We are in this together. That means working together for the ultimate fulfillment of purpose, not against one another. We are one.
When you have an important business move to make, I will be there front and center and providing whatever I can offer in terms of resources and support. When my sports teams aren’t doing well and yours are, I will support yours for as long as they are alive. Laugh if you must, but I appreciate the same in return. It means a lot. In short, I pledge my full and unconditional support in whatever you do, even if I cannot fully understand your motive or purpose fully. I trust your wisdom and judgment and I believe that if I desire your support in my endeavors, that I should reciprocate in kind. It’s the least I can do.
I need my space, at times, though. And I know you will need yours at times, as well. It’s healthy. I am not someone who anyone wants to be under 24/7 no matter how much they love me LOL. Sometimes I just want to go off on a random drive to nowhere and just think. Sometimes I want to zone out and watch hockey or baseball. Sometimes I just want to watch mindless TV or go fishing, or any other outdoors thing. Sometimes alone. Sometimes with my boys. Oh, we’ll be able to do any and all of these things together, but I don’t want things to get stale. It’s best to have some time apart so that when we come back together after a few hours apart, we will appreciate each other even more so each time. However, if for some odd reason you actually want to be around me as much as possible, I will do my best to accommodate ha.
And yes, I will be spontaneous, making dinner plans or plans to take trips with little to no notice other than, “Get dressed, we’re going out tonight” or “Be packed and ready to go tonight, because we have an 8 am flight to X, Y, Z in the morning.” Spontaneity has been the name of the game in my life. It helps keep me young. I hope you are prepared for the ride. You’ll enjoy it. I’ll make sure of it.
There will be ups. There will be downs. There will be triumphs. There will be disappointments. There will be joy. There will be sorrow. Consistency is one of my proudest character traits. That consistency, coupled with the authenticity and stability that comes with knowledge of self is why I offer myself to you. Of all the things I will promise, the one I can make with 100% certitude is that I will always be “me” and not compare myself to anyone else.
I hope you are ready and willing to do these things in return. We are one.
Letter to My Friends: Lifelong, New, and Future
As many already know, I keep my circle tight and my inner circle even tighter. Everyone within my circle has the same common denominator traits in terms of persona, integrity, character, dependability, punctuality and the other things which reflect what I am personally all about. Even if many of them have stark differences in every other area of their lives, whether it be race, faith beliefs, mores, family values and what not, the baseline traits are homogeneous across the board. A man’s friends are a reflection of who he is and what he stands for.
That said, I have friends who I have maintained a healthy relationship with for over 20 years, and a handful who I have known since I was in first grade (that is about 31, 32 years, if doing your kids’ common core math has screwed up your deduction). I value friendship. It’s not just about “my niggas” (as it is said from around the way), but also enjoying healthy relationships with women, as well. You know, something that many believe cannot be achieved — unless they are unattractive and physically unappealing, of which none of my closest female friends are, by the way — so it can be done. It can be done, yes, if you see them as a peer and respect them for who they are inside and out, and not solely as an object of affection or sexual projection. I am no eunuch, but these are tenets and byproducts of something my dad said to me repeatedly seemingly every day while I was growing up: “Treat others the way you would like to be treated.” Because I sincerely do this (those who have crossed me; relatives included, know how physically violent I can be, on the converse, when betrayed — but why betray me, anyway, right?), people of all walks have gravitated toward me over the years. I cherish this. It has helped enhance my life; particularly in the areas of becoming widely cultured, appreciating differences in believes, mores and values, and overall teaching me things that I did not already know. It’s part of a well-rounded existence; something that I perpetuate to others who I come into contact with in return.
With these things given, I submit this letter to my friends and, if I have more of an acquaintanceship with you (i.e. “met” on social media) then you qualify as well. But specifically for my circles; both on the periphery and the inner circle, those who have been my friends for 25+ years already know, those who have gravitated towards me in recent months and years have probably ascertained by now, and those who I will make friends with in the future can trust and know these things:
— If I got it, you got it.
— I do what I say I will do at all times; barring extenuating circumstances.
— I do what I say I will do and when (punctuality again) I will do it, at all times; barring extenuating circumstances.
— I am not perfect and do not require perfection. I value words in alignment with action. I do this, and expect the same, without excuses, lest you be barred from my inner circle.
— I have your back at all times (unless you’re breaking the law or violating someone, then you’re on your own), all I ask is reciprocity in that regard.
— Be honest.
— My inner circle does not hesitate to tell me about myself, good or (especially) bad, and you already know I do the same. I hate passive aggression and sugarcoated euphemisms.
If you cannot do these things. Stay away. For both our sakes.
Letter to My Future Child(ren)
One thing I want you to always take with you is that I already do and will always love you from heaven and back. I promise to teach you everything that I know. I promise to provide you with the foundation to learn, to grow, to expand in understanding throughout your life beyond what I could ever teach you. I am going to sing to you while you are in your mother’s womb. I am going to read to you while you are in your mother’s womb. I promise to be an attentive ear when you have concerns. I promise to not trivialize your trials and tribulations in life, as I have gone before you and experienced many of these things in order that you never feel alone or misunderstood.
I will support you in your endeavors, whatever they may be; whether or not I agree with your plans. I will provide guidance when I think you are heading toward a situation that you are unprepared to handle. I promise to never hold you back from pursuing what you have dreamed to do with your life, lest you resent me for the rest of your life. As God wills, I will be here for your formative years, grade school education, I will be front and center for your sporting events, ensembles, your baptism, your first communion, and, as God wills, your wedding(s) and your children’s birth, so that our legacy can be continued long after I am gone.
Never forget these things as we traverse this life. It will be uncomfortable at times. It will be joyous at other times. Sometimes rocky moments will come along and cause us to not see eye to eye about everything, but never lose sight of the fact that I love you throughout it all. Ultimately, you shall overcome all things because I will demonstrate to you the love that God has shown me, and through Christ who strengthens me, so shall He you.
Always remember these things.