Coaching in the playoffs is different than coaching during the regular season.
During the regular season, systems are put into place that help form a team’s identity. Given the dash from city to city and team to team, however, there really isn’t a chance to dissect an individual opponent’s strengths and weaknesses, let alone set up the players and the play on the ice to exploit those weaknesses and deflect those strengths.
Certainly, in-game adjustments are important, as evidenced by Game 1 between the Nashville Predators and the Dallas Stars. Witness the Stars moving to a more aggressive 2-1-2 forecheck after a lethargic first period. Dallas employed what is, especially for them, a more offensive tactic for the middle half of the game.
Ultimately, this adjustment allowed the quickness of the second line — consisting of Jamie Benn, Roope Hintz, and Mats Zuccarello — to expose the Predators’ Austin Watson, Nick Bonino, Colton Sissons checking line. This matchup, more than anything, slanted the ice and the scoreboard in the Stars favor.
With a two-day break between the first and second game, there is ample time for either head coach to modify their strategy or their tactics.
For Nashville, a handful of suggestions have been made. During the first period, the Predators were able to get the puck deep on the Stars and apply a physical forecheck. Brian Boyle’s hit on Jason Dickinson is the most visible evidence of how this worked. In theory, a heavy hitting attack on John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen would slow the Stars down by hemming them into their defensive zone.
Alternatively, the Predators could insert some speed of their own into the lineup, most likely by replacing Wayne Simmonds on the fourth line with Rocco Grimaldi. Friday’s practice lines would indicate no change, but the option has certainly been discussed.
For Dallas, outside of the now common slow start, there was little not to like about Game 1. Going in, some questioned Justin Dowling drawing in for Jason Spezza, but after the solid performance of the second power play unit, there shouldn’t be much of a push to upset that apple cart.
Monty said still to be finalized but did agree that practice today looks a lot like the lineup from Game 1. Expect it to be the same.— Sean Shapiro (@seanshapiro) April 12, 2019
For the Stars, the primary question for Game 2 relates to their attack, and whether they maintain a more aggressive forward attack. Greater team speed, especially from the Hintz line, proved a difference maker in Game 1. The Stars may press that advantage, or they may fall back on a regular season team identity that utilizes a defense-first counter attack.
Either option can work. There are advantages to being up one game.
Dallas Stars Lineup
Jason Dickinson - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov
Jamie Benn - Roope Hintz - Mats Zuccarello
Andrew Cogliano - Radek Faksa - Blake Comeau
Mattias Janmark - Justin Dowling - Tyler Pitlick
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Miro Heiskanen - Roman Polak
Taylor Fedun - Ben Lovejoy
Nashville Predators Lineup
Filip Forsberg - Ryan Johansen - Viktor Arvidsson
Mikael Granlund - Kyle Turris - Craig Smith
Colton Sissons - Nick Bonino - Austin Watson
Brian Boyle - Calle Jarnkrok - Wayne Simmonds
Roman Josi - Ryan Ellis
Mattias Ekholm - P.K. Subban
Dan Hamhuis - Dante Fabbro
As the home team, Nashville has last change. In Game 1, head coach Peter Laviolette favored the following matchups at even strength (based on data organized by and available at NaturalStatTrick).
Against the Seguin line, the Predators rolled second pair defense and their first line. Shot share favored Nashville, but expected goals and scoring chances played out as even.
Nashville played first pair defense and the Bonino checking line against the Hintz line. As noted above, this matchup slanted heavily toward the Stars on all accounts.
The Predators second line and third defensive pair played straight up against the Faksa line. Shot share favored Nashville, however neither team generated much in the way of scoring chances.
The fourth lines and third pairs primarily faced each other, with minimal shooting and limited scoring chances.
To summarize, Nashville’s top line drove possession, but the Seguin line pushed most of the activity to the outside. The Hintz line took advantage of the Predators checking line, while the Faksa line kept Nashville’s second line from having any significant impact. The fourth lines played some minutes.
In Game 1, the Predators came out aggressively and took a heavy forecheck to the Stars. Dallas took the hit, but came out of the first period down a goal. In the second period, the Stars were able to flip the ice, and their relentless forecheck negated the Predator’s physical game.
This in-game adjustment by the Star’s coaching staff appears to have caught the Predator’s off-guard, and for a full 30 minutes, Dallas was able to dictate play. The Stars pulled out the turtle for the last 10 minutes of the third, and gave up a second goal in the process. Players not taking a single shift after the Subban goal include Klingberg, Fedun, Benn, and Zuccarello.
After flipping home ice advantage, the expectation here is that the Stars return to their defense-first identity, which would include a less aggressive forecheck. It is likely that Nashville’s Game 2 adjustments include a re-emphasis on the physical game that got them off to a great start in Game 1.
Dallas demonstrated that pressure in the offensive zone could negate that part of the Predator’s game. Coming out in period two, the Stars were physically and mentally quick. Their advantage is agility.
What should be of concern to the Nashville faithful is that Dallas was able to find some advantages at even strength. Solving the 5-on-5 problem for Nashville is priority number one, but past that, they are still facing a Stars team with a Vezina-quality Ben Bishop in goal.
As a fall back, they could always rely on that NHL 31st ranked power play.