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Coach's analysis: Special teams pivotal for Predators against Ducks

Former NHL assistant Perry Pearn says Nashville needs to take advantage of potent power play in Western Conference Final

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

For additional insight into the Western Conference Final between the Anaheim Ducks and Nashville Predators, NHL.com has enlisted the help of Perry Pearn to break down the action from the Predators' perspective. Pearn will be checking in throughout the series.

Pearn, 65, has worked 22 seasons as an NHL assistant with the Vancouver Canucks, Ottawa Senators, New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens and Winnipeg Jets. He began his NHL career as an assistant in Winnipeg in 1995-96.

 

ANAHEIM -- Whether they will admit it or not, the Nashville Predators had to feel relieved after defeating the Anaheim Ducks 3-2 in overtime in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final at Honda Center on Friday.

Former NHL assistant coach Perry Pearn believes the Predators know they dodged a bullet when they failed to score during a 1:27 5-on-3 advantage midway through the third period, when the game was tied 2-2. The Ducks were assessed consecutive penalties for delay of game for shooting the puck over the glass.

"One of the things I thought going into the series that was an advantage for Nashville was special teams, based on what's happened in the playoffs so far," Pearn said. "I thought if Nashville had lost that game, that would have been one of the areas to point to as a coach, that 'We have to be better on special teams after going zero for five.'

 

[RELATED: Complete Predators vs. Ducks series coverage]

 

"When you get a 5-on-3 with that amount of time and you don't take advantage of it, it's usually the key point of the game that comes back to bite you.

"The fact that they survived it and still won the game is a good sign. But I don't think Nashville can expect to win the series without an edge in this area. It's their best opportunity to win the series and where I think they have an edge, their power play against Anaheim penalty killing."

Game 2 is at Honda Center on Sunday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports).

Pearn saw other interesting pressure points in Game 1.

"One thing I really like from Nashville, and this has been them all season, as far as I could see, including games I was preparing for, and it's something that helped them win the game in overtime, it's that their defensemen get up the ice on the rush," Pearn said. "They're so dangerous and they seem to have so much confidence in doing that. They generated so much from it and it's exactly how they scored in overtime.

Video: NSH@ANA, Gm1: Forsberg redirects Irwin's shot home

"It's going to be a challenge for Anaheim to deal with that in the series. Getting the Predators defensemen active without them getting caught, that's a big advantage for them."

Pearn said a concern will be the faceoff edge the Ducks often have.

"From a coach's perspective, Nashville lost too many faceoffs (56 percent) in Game 1," Pearn said. "Over time, that begins to work against you, and of course, it was a lost defensive zone faceoff that created the tie game for Anaheim in the third period. Early in the game, Anaheim dominated but Nashville did win faceoffs later that gave them possession.

"From a coach's eyes, that's one thing heading into Game 2 that they'll be talking about, looking at and trying to address."

Another element of the series was evident in Game 1 with how the Predators were able to sustain offensive zone time.

"Their cycle game is strong," Pearn said. "With all four lines they got good pressure and when they establish that cycle and pin Anaheim in, they're hard on them and that burns up minutes and stresses Anaheim's defense.

"One of the things Nashville does really well is keeping the defensemen wide on the rim for the cycle when they have good possession. That's really good position to be in but there is one risk, that when you give up possession, you can make yourself vulnerable. This could come into play down the road and Anaheim seemed to be aware of it and trying to split them up the middle with a long pass. That will be interesting for Nashville going forward, whether Anaheim will take advantage of that. They didn't [Friday] night."

Pearn said another factor that stuck out for him was back pressure by forwards on each team, a key reason why each has reached the Western Conference Final.

The head-to-head matchups will be another area worth watching as the series unfolds.

"As the game went on, Anaheim didn't seem as set on it," Pearn said. "They had Ryan Getzlaf's line against Ryan Johansen's line more than I thought they would, when I thought it would be Ryan Kesler's line against Johansen more. That's a bit interesting. It's one area that could turn out as a Nashville advantage, but it's really hard to say right now.

"I sensed a little concern in the [second round series] with Anaheim about their fourth unit. I think the fourth unit for Nashville had a bit better game and [Predators] coach Peter Laviolette felt more comfortable using them than what [Ducks coach] Randy Carlyle was using their fourth group.

"That's going to be interesting as we go on into the series, because it can cause top guys to play more and pick up extra minutes."

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