By Amanda DiPaolo
In the NHL, teams can win games on the strength of their power play. The penalty kill, likewise, can keep a team in games. For the Nashville Predators, while their penalty kill has improved steadily from the start of the season, the power play has gone in the other direction. Through 21 games, Nashville has scored 9 power play goals in 78 opportunities — but two of them came Friday afternoon when the team was already losing 4-0 in the third period to the Wild.
It is too early to know if the late efforts from Nashville on Friday will act as a turning point in sparking the Predators offense. But one thing is for certain, when you struggle to score goals at even strength, the man advantage can be a real difference maker. And the Predators have struggled to score goals as of late, scoring just 3 times in the last three games.
When asked about the Predators scoring woes, Coach Barry Trotz said “One of the biggest mistakes that the Nashville Predators make is when we say well we got to score lots of goals. All of a sudden we are not Nashville Predator-like and therefore we will lose 6-4 or something like that. That’s not the way we play. Our team identity is that we play solid team defense as a group and piggy back some of our offense off of that.”
Truer words have never been spoken. On the road against Anaheim and Toronto, the Predators lost both games by 5-4 scores. In Anaheim, defenseman Paul Mara scored with less than 2 seconds left in the game to break a 4-4 tie. Toronto won on the strength of four second period power play tallies. Neither game was very characteristic of Predators hockey. Of Nashville’s 9 wins this season, 7 have been by one goal.
Friday’s game against the Wild is also an example of what Trotz meant. If the team identity is to play solid team defense, Nashville was masquerading as another team Friday afternoon when playing at even strength. The Wild skated by Nashville defensive coverage, or lack thereof, on a number of occasions. Scoring droughts happen and that’s ok for the Predators, so long as their defensive play doesn’t break down, as was the case in Minnesota.
Though Nashville plays defense-first hockey, scoring goals is something of which the team acknowledges it needs more. “We need some guys to get hot. We have some guys that are considered our offensive players. They don’t have any more goals than what we consider our defensive players. They are the guys on the power play. I don’t have a lot of our defensive players on the power play,” Trotz said.
After Wednesday’s 2-1 shootout loss to the Central Division rival St. Louis Blues, Trotz expressed some concern with the Predators man advantage. “The power play sometimes gets frustrating when it is not doing the things that you want. I look at some of the games, we are entering well, we are battling and moving the puck around and we’re getting some chances. There are other games where we aren’t getting as many.”
Trotz says the Predators power play is set up in a way that is similar to a lot of other teams in the league and it just comes down to execution. “We have a plan its just working the plan and executing it. We’re just misfiring,” he said. “Our offensive players have to make sure they are going to the hard areas, shooting and creating things and using their skill set. That’s what we do when we have a plan as a team. it’s a matter of executive it’s a matter of will and some puck luck, but you gotta get pucks to the net.”
Before Friday afternoon, the last Predators power play goal came at home against Chicago on November 13th. While the power play has not been working in the first quarter of the season, the penalty kill has been solid as of late.
Trotz gave credit to his penalty killers for keeping the team in several games. “We took some penalties and were able to kill those — great job by the penalty killers,” he said.
The penalty kill, in contrast to the power play, started off uncharacteristically weak. In the same 15-game span that saw Nashville score 7 power play goals, the Predators also allowed 9 goals while shorthanded. The following game would be that fateful Toronto game where the Predators allowed the Leafs to score four power play goals in the middle frame. That’s a total of 13 goals while a man down in 16 games.
Since Toronto, however, Nashville has been perfect on the penalty kill, 17-for-17 over a five-game stretch.
Predators forward Jerred Smithson sees a considerable amount of ice time when Nashville is shorthanded. “It has been better,” he said about the penalty kill. “We still have some work to do but it has been better. We are starting to get really comfortable with each other and the system. We are starting to believe in it and I think that is the main thing. We have some great guys in Nick Spaling, Joel Ward and Marcel Goc. Those guys are doing a great job. It’s fun to be a part of but it is better to stay out of the box.”
The Predators special teams could not be more opposite in their effectiveness. The defensive forwards have kept Nashville in games by killing penalties and scoring goals. Before Friday, the Predators had a 2-1-1 record in their last four games having only scored 6 goals.
Marcel Goc has as many goals as Patric Hornqvist. Defenseman Cody Franson is just 2 goals behind team leader Steve Sullivan, with 4 tallies on the season. And Smithson has 2 goals in his last four games, including Nashville’s only goal in their 2-1 shootout loss to the Blues last Wednesday.
The Predators somehow need to build off their 5-2 loss Friday afternoon to move forward with the confidence to find the back of the net. If they can’t, Nashville will need to continue to rely on players who play the role of keeping the puck out of the net, not finding a way to put the puck in it.
Are you looking for tickets to an upcoming Predators home game? Follow this link for discounted tickets. Make an account and then use the word Preds as the code for the discount. The next Predators home game is tonight when the Preds take on the New York Rangers. Following the Rangers game, Phoenix comes to town on Tuesday night. Tickets are still available for both games.