Penguins notebook: Team welcomes Predators' change of pace
A smile broke across Bryan Rust's face as he tried to think of the right word to use to describe the style of hockey likely awaiting the Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final and how it compared to Ottawa's slow-it-down aesthetic in the Eastern Conference final.
"It's definitely going to be probably a little bit more fun hockey," the winger concluded.
Nashville, the Cup finalist out of the Western Conference, brings a blend of speed, skill and depth that distinguishes the Predators from not only the Senators' personnel but also that of Columbus. A wealth of puck-movers on Nashville's blueline presents the promise of up-tempo play, a scenario the Penguins will welcome.
"It's definitely going to be a little bit of a different series than what we've seen here," Rust said. "It's going to be a new challenge. They're a really good team, and they've got a lot of confidence right now."
Though they entered the playoffs with the worst record of any postseason qualifier, the Predators provided signs of their potential. Their five-on-five production in goals, shots and shot attempts for all ranked in the league's top 10, and in each case, they allowed less than they generated.
Ottawa found its success in the playoffs with a reliance on neutral- and defensive-zone structure and strong goaltending. Washington and Columbus tried to top the Penguins with offensive-zone aggression and puck possession.
Nashville, anchored by Pekka Rinne in goal, possesses a lineup capable of utilizing either approach or striking a balance somewhere in between. It allowed a playoff-low 1.81 goals per game and also tied for second in goals scored per game (2.94) through three rounds.
"Ottawa was way different than Washington and Columbus, so we've seen it all so far," defenseman Brian Dumoulin said. "Obviously we think that Nashville is going to be somewhere in between. We think they'll be a little bit more physical than Ottawa was — definitely on the forecheck. … I think it's going to be a lot of learning, especially in the first couple games."
Rest and recovery
The Penguins did not practice Friday and held an off-ice workout Saturday following the completion of their series against Ottawa late Thursday.
With the Stanley Cup Final set to begin Monday at PPG Paints Arena and media day scheduled for Sunday, did the Penguins sense they rushed from one round to the next?
"It's a good little break," Rust said. "We get a day or two to kind of relax and kind of get your mind off of it. And we still have a day or two to kind of get ramped up and learn from film and learn what we need to do to be successful."
Ready for Rinne
One aspect of the scouting report on Nashville no Penguins skater wants to overlook is the puck-handling ability of Rinne. While the Predators' defensemen drive transition play, Rinne often tees up those opportunities with his knack for retrieving pucks.
"We want to keep it away from him as much as we can," forward Conor Sheary said. "We don't want to start their breakout, and he's pretty good at that."
Any Penguins defenseman who wants to prepare for how to defend 5-foot-9, 180-pound Nashville dynamo Viktor Arvidsson might just ask Conor Sheary for a little one-on-one work at practice.
Arvidsson, who tied for the regular-season team lead in points (61) and goals (31), is another clever undersized winger with a nose for the net. He's not the first the Penguins will encounter in these playoffs — Columbus' Cam Atkinson (5-8, 182) scored 35 goals and 27 assists in the regular season and added two more goals and an assist in the Blue Jackets' first-round series.
But Arvidsson, akin to Sheary (5-8, 175) more so than Atkinson, produced a significant portion of his points without the help of a man advantage. He actually tallied more short-handed goals (five) than ones on the power play (four).
"He seems to never give up on a play," Dumoulin said. "He's definitely a scrappy guy in front of the net. Pucks seem to find him."
Bill West is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.