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Positional Preview: Dynamic Defense Meets Stingy Blue Line

by Thomas Willis / Nashville Predators

Our position-by-position look at the Nashville Predators and Anaheim Ducks impending playoff series moves on to part two: defensemen. (To read more on the goaltending battle in the series, click here)

Ducks Defenseman Point Leaders:

Defensemen Goals Assists Points
Sami Vatanen 9 29 38
Hampus Lindholm 10 18 28
Cam Fowler 5 23 28
Josh Manson 5 10 15
*Kevin Bieksa 4 11 15
Shea Theodore 3 5 8
Clayton Stoner 1 5 6

D

Predators Defenseman Point Leaders:

Defensemen Goals Assists Points
Roman Josi 14 47 61
Shea Weber 20 31 51
Mattias Ekholm 8 27 35
Ryan Ellis 10 22 32
Anthony Bitetto 1 5 6
Barret Jackman 1 4 5
Peter Granberg 0 2 2

L
League Leaders: As a pair, the defensive units of the Preds and Ducks hold the NHL’s top spot in numerous metrics. Nashville allowed the fewest shots per game (27.3), had the most goals by defensemen (55) and tied for first in overall blueliner points (203). Anaheim concluded regular season play allowing the fewest goals (188) and holding the No. 1-ranked penalty kill (87.2 percent). What they share in their statistical success, the two defensive units differ in their assembly. The Predators rely primarily on high-minute totals from their first pairing of Roman Josi and Shea Weber, and to an extent their middle coupling of Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis, whereas the Ducks have shown a tendency to spread out playing time with five to six d-men consistently hitting more than 15 minutes per night.

“You look at our team all year, it’s been driven by Josi, Weber, Ekholm and Ellis, and having the D be a part of the offense,” defenseman Barret Jackman said. “So we need to know what we’ve been doing all year long, playing as five-man units up and down the ice. We need to get up in the play, and usually when you’re up in the play, it also helps with gaps and breaking up plays.”

Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette said the activation of his team’s defense into offensive rushes has been one of the club’s identities all season long.

“It’s been a big part of who we are all year; we have guys that are capable of moving the puck offensively from our end through the neutral zone, in the offensive zone and adding to the rush and the power play,” Laviolette said. “They have been a key part of who we are. I think you need contributions from everybody, but our guys have done a good job of playing our system and getting involved when they can.”

Differing Identities: Choosing words to identify the defenses of the Ducks and Preds draws to mind terms such as “stingy” for Anaheim and “dynamic” for Nashville. The Predators locker room derived a similar line of thinking when posed the same line of questioning.

“That’s something we’ve talked all year about [our defense] being involved in all aspects of the game, whether it be in your own end of the offensive end,” Ellis said. “We’re going to need five guys competing on both ends of the ice. They’re a stingy defensive team, so we’re going to need everyone involved, all lines, all D, to do our best to score.”

Jackman said no matter how you define either of the team’s defenses, when two units posses the skill like the Preds and Ducks do, they’re both capable of making life difficult for their opponent.

“You have to play hard. You have to take advantage,” Jackman said. “If there are opportunities, you have to score, put pucks on net and get hungry. Each team is going be battling for the same ice and the same goal. The team that gets that much grittier and nastier in front of the nets, in the corners and in those one-on-one battles, is going to create opportunities for themselves.”

*Currently injured


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