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Preds Defensemen Contributing at Both Ends of Ice in Playoffs

Through 14 Games of Postseason, Nashville D-Corps Contributes 37 Points

by John Glennon @glennonsports /

With the third period slipping away and the Predators in desperate need of a goal Thursday, the team turned once again to one of its most reliable sources of playoff offense: the defense.

When P.K. Subban's slapshot from the blue line sailed past Anaheim goalie John Gibson, it ignited the Bridgestone Arena crowd and sparked a late two-goal rally that sent Game Four into overtime.

The Preds would eventually fall - after a puck deflected off Subban's stick and popped into the Nashville net - but the postseason performance of Nashville's blueliners shouldn't be dimmed by one inadvertent play.

Through 14 playoff games, Predators defensemen have piled up a League-best 37 points, accounting for almost 36 percent of Nashville's postseason offense. Preds blueliners have now scored a combined 11 goals, which tops NHL playoff teams in that department as well.

What we're seeing is the impressive execution of Head Coach Peter Laviolette and Assistant Coach Phil Housley's ideal - a mobile, swift-skating unit that can both defend its own zone and make a rapid transition into the attack.

"I think our `D,' and our top four especially, have as much skill as any top four in the League," Predators General Manager David Poile said. "Their skill level, in terms of their hockey sense, their ability to transition from offense to defense, and their ability to make the first pass out of our zone - so we're not spending a great deal of time in our end - is right there among the best.

"There is, for sure, a great chemistry in our defensive pairings. They're driving our team right now."

That the Predators' corps of defensemen is playing well offensively in the playoffs is not in itself a stunner, considering Nashville's blueliners combined for an NHL-best 181 points during the regular season.

Video: ANA@NSH, Gm4: Subban rips a goal through screen

But they've made even more of an impact in the playoffs. A few notable nuggets:

  • Defensemen Roman Josi (five goals, five assists) and Ryan Ellis (four goals, six assists) have both set franchise records for playoff goals and points.

  • All of Nashville's top four defensemen - Subban, Josi, Ellis and Mattias Ekholm - have improved on their points per game average from the regular season, with Ekholm nearly doubling his.

  • Predators defensemen have either assisted on or scored 24 of Nashville's last 28 goals, a stretch that dates back to Game One of the St. Louis series.

  • In the Preds' Game Three win over Anaheim, the team's defensemen outshot the Ducks' entire team, 21-20. Nashville's blueliners poured 15 more shots on goal Thursday, including six each by Subban and Josi.

"I think our `D' do a really good job of trying to find lanes," said Housley, a Hockey Hall of Fame defensemen. "You look at every team now and they're doing a terrific job of [blocking] shot lanes - not only the first guy, but a second layer and sometimes even a third. So you have to get your shots off quick - time that lane quick or it's going to be closed off - and I think our `D' have done a pretty good job of that."

What shouldn't be overlooked, however, is the job the Predators' defensemen are doing, well, defensively.

Nashville's blueliners are a big part of the reason the Preds are allowing the fewest shots (28.6) and the fewest goals against (1.79) per game among playoff teams.

"That's been a big priority for us - being in good position, having a good stick, trying to close (on opposing puck-carriers) and being aggressive," Housley said. "It's important because you can say defense wins games. We know against really good teams like Anaheim, we're going to have to defend."

But Housley didn't total over 1,200 career points in his 21 NHL seasons by spending an overabundance of time in his own zone.

So it makes sense that one point he drives home time and again is a variation on an old theme: The best defense is a good offense.

"If we can break out of our zone quick, if we can transition quickly, that's part of playing defense," Housley said. "To defend well requires a lot of energy. So if we can get out of the zone and get back in the offensive zone, I think we're using our energy the right way. Make the other team play defense, which is expending their energy in that area."

Playing in the offensive zone is also less stressful and, quite simply, more fun for defensemen.

Who wouldn't want to be taking the play to the opponent, as opposed to sitting back and reacting? Who wouldn't want to be sending punishing shots at the enemy net, as opposed to stepping in front of opponents' blasts?

"It's a fun system, for sure," Ellis said. "Everyone wants to chip in offensively and be a part of the attack, score goals and things like that. I think especially here in the playoffs, you're starting to see the reward of the commitment from our guys."

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