The Greatest Tournament Of All Is Finally Here!

Marc Elliott

FORT SNELLING… It is Sunday afternoon on “Stanley Cup Eve”. I am sitting back after a busy week contemplating who will do what with which, and to whom, and I’m not drawing any concrete conclusions at all. One moment my head is saying that the Nashville Predators will win and my heart is saying the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins will. The next moment I am thinking the opposite. For the Penguins you have the Minnesota connected Matt Cullen, Jake Guentzel and former Gopher Phil Kessel, which gives me reason to pull for them, but then on the Nashville side you have the South St. Paul legend and HHOF member Phil Housley.    

In a former career my office was next to a guy whose son had come up through the SSP youth hockey ranks with Housley and even back then he was a standout wherever he went. I can recall when my colleague came in right after the NHL draft in 1982 and Housley had been drafted by the Buffalo Sabres (6th Overall no less) and this fellow was absolutely beaming! He was happy for Phil and his family and said that this couldn’t have happened to nicer people. Just a few weeks later he came in one day and told me that Housley had signed his first contract, took some of his signing bonus, went and bought a new Chevy Camaro, packed it to the gills and headed off for western New York. That thought still makes me smile. My friend was as happy as if that had been his own son….    

And as if I needed any further proof that I am now an old fart, Housley, some 33 years later, was inducted into the HHOF in 2015. I still have the ceremony on my DVR. Housley’s induction speech was quite like Phil himself, soft spoken, down to earth and humble, even though he is now regarded as one of the Hockey world’s best ever. So, it would be hard to pull against him. The reality is that I am going to be watching the series intently, and whoever wins I will be happy for them. There are great stories emanating from both sides. And this is the first time in the history of the NHL that two American coaches are facing off in a SC Final. Imagine that! It’s 2017 and this is the first time? Somehow I have a feeling that a certain famous Miracle Coach and his rough and tumble College Coach are smiling from above.    

So, what is the Tale of the Tape here? After the first three rounds of play the Pens are the superior offensive team and the Pred’s are the better defensive team. A roster dissection would bear that out, plus a current injury analysis as well. The Pens clearly have the better offensive talent and the Pred’s have what would be considered from a 1-4 standpoint perhaps the best blueline in the league right now. Even if the Pens defense wasn’t as banged up and injured as it is currently, that would still hold true, even if the Pens still had All-World defender Kris Letang on hand. The Pred’s though, can’t match up with Crosby, Malkin, Kessel and the like.    

The Pens have posted a 3.03 GFA and Nashville isn’t that far off with a 2.84 GFA. The Pens have a 10.8 shooting percentage and the Pred’s a 9.9. The penalty minutes per game are a standoff at 8.65 (Pens) and 8.9 for Nashville. And to highlight the defensive side of Nashville’s game and in particular, that of net minder Pekka Rinne (one of the classiest guys in the game today) the Preds are at a 1.93 GAA, while the Pens, with games played by both Matt Murray of Thunder Bay and by fan fave Marc Andre Fleury, have posted a 2.26 GAA. The save percentage is negligible with the Pred’s at 93.0 and the Pens at 92.7. The Pred’s have posted two shutouts and the Pens have three.    

On special teams the Pens are at a 25.4 PP% while the Pred’s have put up an 18.%. On the PK the Preds are at a 86.7% and Pitt is at 82.8%. (The Wild are still tied for first at 93.3, with MON, both clubs booted from Round 1) In the faceoff circle the Pens are at 51.3% and NASH is at 49.7. (The Wild still lead in this category at 57.4%) As an aside here, why are the STL Blues and the NYR both out of the tourney? They both had the lowest PP performance of the 16 teams in the tournament at 7.7% for the NYR and 6.7% for STL. Geez, even the Wild were about ten points better then that!    

So after weighing out all of those numbers have I arrived at any conclusions? No. This series may as well be a flat-out tossup. NASH has the better ’D’ and net minding right now and the Pens have the better offense. I do feel that the Pred’s might bring a little more juice right now having played three less tilts then the Pens, but at this time of year will that matter? I mean this is IT! What if NASH goes home down 0-2? What if they split? It’s the #2 seed versus the #16 seed. Does that hold any water? If not for a fresh buzz cut I’d probably pull out my hair right now. I’m going to the coin which might be as reliable as any predictor right now. Using a one dollar coin, 2 of 3 format, the Pred’s have won the coin flip 2-0...    

GAME ONE HAS been played this evening and this was as strange a SC tilt as I have ever seen. The Pens had the better play for the first period and amassed a 3-0 lead. After that? The Pred’s dominated play, and between possession, shot blocking and the like didn’t allow a Penguin shot in the 2nd period. (I believe that’s a first in SC Final play) The Pred’s got one back in the 2nd, then tied it in the 3rd, and after stifling Pens shots for a whopping 37 minutes, the Woodbury Wonder, Jake Guentzel, got the GWG with 3:17 left on a top shelf shot that beat Rinne cleanly over his glove hand. I think he was probably partially screened out. The Pens ended this game with a mere 12 SOG! Yikes. In a testament to their greatness though, still won. (5-3F) What in the H-E-double hockey sticks will the rest of this series bring? PEACE