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If It Bleeds We Can Kill It: Why the Dallas Stars Must Fear the Predators

I can’t reference Jonah Lehrer without at least introducing him. Here was this young hot shot science journalist at the top of his game, writing articles about the cognitive benefits of chewing gum and the correct way to drink Gatorade for Wired and eventually the New Yorker.

I even feel kind of proud to say I got to correspond with him upon doing an article about traumatic brain injury. I still do. But the fact remains: he decided to write a wonderfully ambitious book on the science of creativity, and took those creative pulses as far as fabricating Bob Dylan quotes. Needless to say, his career isn’t what it once was after getting eviscerated in the media. But he pokes his head out every now and then.

In this brief piece about why we watch sports, the conclusion is that we watch so long as there’s an “optimal level of discrepancy”. After all, if talent always wins, what’s the point in watching? The underdog story speaks to more than just cliches of grit. It speaks to the audience’s psychology.

In that story, the Nashville Predators are your quintessential underdog. They are that “discrepancy” amidst a status quo of so called original six teams that didn’t include six teams originally, and Wednesday Night “rivalries” between teams that never even see each other.

But Nashville is no underdog. They’re marauding killing machines bred for puck hunting. They’re the mustard that came alive and took ’em.

Nashville is currently 19-6-5 since January 1st. Their CF% stacks up against the rest of the league like so:

They are 1st in the league per War on Ice when suppressing high danger area scoring chances per 60 minutes of play at a clip of 8.4. The next closest team is New Jersey at 9.4 . Dallas ranks 28th at a clip of 12.2 which is basically equal to the two last place teams, Edmonton and Colorado, who suppress high danger area scoring chances per 60 at a rate of 12.3. Per Corsica, they are also first in expected goals allowed per 60.

In other words, don’t let the standings fool you. This is a team that doesn’t even get stellar goaltending, but doesn’t need to because Nashville tends to allow chances around the perimeter.

Yes, a lot of this revolves around the play of Shea Weber, who is hardly as declining as the #fancystats suggest. But they also have Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and the ridiculously underrated Mattias Ekholm, who is really just ridiculously good if his company among names like Subban, Karlsson, and Leddy when it comes to exiting the defensive zone is any indication.

Defensemen eat up minutes. Even your average third pairing defensemen is gonna soak up as much time as a 2nd line center. It’s important for them to support the puck from one zone to the next regardless of the forward trio so that the opponent is forced to play in their own zone. Jen Lute Costella noted this in her exhaustive breakdown of zone entries and exits during Nashville’s bout with Chicago several nights ago. To wit:

When the top lines matched up against each other, Jarnkrok, Cullen and Stalberg were able to generate offensive pressure for Nashville, much like Shaw, Kruger and Versteeg were able to do for Chicago. Scoring depth leads to difficulties in getting match ups that can limit offensive pressure and opens up opportunities for the first and second lines. Because star lines often cancel each other out in the playoffs, throwing a wrench in the opponent’s plan for line matching can lead to good things. That was a tall order in this series because both teams had good depth and were aggressive in pushing their offensive attack.

Dallas is more than capable of beating them. Nashville still owns an average shooting percentage, as well as an average save percentage (one of which Dallas is spectacular, one of which Dallas is spectacularly bad at). But the Stars would need their forward core firing on all cylinders to make up for their defensive shortcomings.

Styles make fights, as the prizefighting cliche goes. The worst thing Dallas could do in the playoffs would be to draw a team like Nashville. Not because they can’t beat them, but because Nashville is just as elite as Chicago, just in a different way with a different system. They’d be wise to see them not as underdogs, but as Southern overlords. Offense wins championships. So welcome them to the revolution.