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Predators vs. Blackhawks: Analytics preview

by Corey Masisak / NHL.com

The two best puck possession teams still playing in the Western Conference, at least when going by the full-season numbers, will meet in the opening round.

With the Los Angeles Kings not part of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators had the highest shot attempt percentages (SAT%) among the eight teams in the West that reached the postseason.

The Blackhawks finished 2014-15 second in the League in SAT%, while the Predators were sixth. The two teams were very similar in the amount of shot attempts they allowed, but Chicago finished second to the New York Islanders in shot attempts for.

Neither team has played to its peak level in recent weeks. The Predators were the surprise of the first half of the season, storming to the top of the NHL standings. Nashville's possession numbers have been OK late in the season, but the Predators stumbled to the finish line winning only eight of their final 25 games.

Nashville's shooting percentage plus save percentage (SpSv%) was among the highest in the League earlier in the season, and each part of that equation regressed in 2015. Since Jan. 1, the Predators SpSv% is 999, almost right at League average, and Predators are 23-16-7. That's a 94-point pace (less than ninth-place Los Angeles) for more than half the season.

The Blackhawks were rolling along as the consensus favorite to win the Stanley Cup earlier in the season despite some poor luck with their team shooting percentage, but Patrick Kane's injury and some decline in the puck possession metrics have made thing murkier.

Chicago finished second to the Montreal Canadiens in goals allowed this season, but in the second half of the campaign that was more excellent goaltending than elite shot suppression, which had been a hallmark the past couple of seasons for coach Joel Quenneville's club.

The possession battle was pretty even when these two teams met this season, but there are some wild swings based on individual matchups. Nashville forward Colin Wilson saw a lot of shifts start in the offensive zone against the Blackhawks and he made them count.

Nashville was plus-33 in shot attempts when Wilson was on the ice, according to matchup totals from www.datarink.com. That is tied for the second-best individual advantage of any player against his first-round opponent.

Meanwhile, the Blackhawks feasted on Nashville's fourth-line forwards like Eric Nystrom and Paul Gaustad. Predators coach Peter Laviolette likes to deploy them, especially Gaustad because of his faceoff prowess, for shifts that start in the defensive zone. Against an attack-minded team like the Blackhawks, that might not be the best move.

These two teams have an elite top defensive pairing, and the differences in their usage will have them on the ice together a lot. Shea Weber and Roman Josi see a lot of defensive zone starts for the Predators, while Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook (when they're together) get put on the ice in the offensive zone a lot. When Keith and Weber were on the ice together (more than 46 minutes) at even strength, the Blackhawks collected 54 of the 84 shot attempts.

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