The Nashville Predators Power-Play was the 2nd best in team history.
The 2015-2016 power-play was a refreshing change of pace. In what felt like the first time since the Kariya-era, PA announcer Paul McCann announcing a Predators power-play brought expectations, not just hope.
The 2015-2016 Nashville Predators posted the 10th best power-play in the league at 19.7%.
The only better power-play in team history? The 2010-2011 Preds converted 20.4% of their man-advantage chances. Stats gathered from NHL.com.
The Predators scored 50 goals on the man advantage. Additionally, they were 11th in the league at drawing penalties, 259 in total.
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An often overlooked stat is short-handed goals against. Nashville only gave up 2 short-handed goals all season, least in the league.
This season’s power-play was far more potent than last season’s 16.2%. What changed?
First of all, the Nashville Predators power-play entry was much improved.
Typically, a Predators defenseman will rush up the ice, backing off the opposing team. The second he receives pressure, usually between the offensive blue-line and red-line, he drops the puck behind him. This forces the opposing penalty-kill to stop and hold their ground. What else can they do? The penalty-kill can’t keep skating back into their zone. At this point, all 4 penalty killers are essentially standing still.
The brilliance of the drop pass is that the Predator picking up the puck is coming in with speed against a mostly stagnant defense. Often the original rushing defenseman will set a basketball-style pick, creating a lane for the puck-carrying forward entering the zone.
This drop-pass entry is how the Predators routinely gain possession in the offensive zone. Even if the power-play is forced to dump the puck in, a forward entering with speed can easily beat a defenseman to the puck who is static and forced to pivot.
The improved entry is one of many factors that led to a fairly dangerous power-play. Which Nashville Predators player benefited most from the 10th best conversion rate in the NHL?
Above stats from puckbase.com
It should be no surprise to see Shea Weber as Nashville’s power-play point leader. Shea Weber led all NHL defensemen with 14 power-play goals. His 26 points ranked 3rd among d-men. Shea Weber’s slap shot terrorized teams all season. The most impressive part about it is that teams were aware of Weber’s ability and yet, failed to find a way to stop it.
Josi’s 24 points are well deserved as he often drove the play forward and was responsible for setting up Weber time and time again.
If we pro-rated Ryan Johansen‘s 42 games with the Nashville Predators, he would have about 24 points, placing him somewhere between Josi and Forsberg. There is no doubt RyJo took away some PP minutes, away from Ribeiro, driving his point totals down.
What could have been better?
10th is great and all, but what stopped the Nashville Predators from taking that next step to becoming an elite level man-advantage? In short, blame the face-offs.
All Face-off data from puckbase.com
The 2015-2016 Nashville Predators were abysmal on the dot. How abysmal I hear you ask?
47.6% or dead-last in the league.
Losing faceoffs doesn’t help generate chances. More often than not, an opposing defenseman iced the puck off the first draw during a Nashville power play. Typically, an icing burns about 20-30 seconds of PP time. It’s honestly impressive the Nashville Predators power-play was as good as it was with their anemic face-off percentages.
Below is each center’s face-off% while on the man-advantage in the offensive-zone.
Johansen- 65.1%- 43 Face-offs/1per game
Fisher- 49.2%- 122 Face-offs/1.7per game
Jarnkrok- 46.7%- 45 Face-offs/0.6per game
Ribeiro- 38.6%- 83 Face-offs/1per game
Smith- 27.9%- 43 Face-offs/.5per game
As if Nashville Predators fans needed another reason to love Ryan Johansen…
So the clear culprits are Mike Ribeiro and Craig Smith. Curiously, they play on the same PP unit. RyJo’s inclusion has mostly left Jarnkrok on the bench during power-plays.
Lately, we have seen Smith taking a few offensive-zone face-offs over Ribeiro. One could presume this is due to Ribeiro’s inefficiency and maybe giving somebody else a crack isn’t the worst idea. However, Craig Smith’s numbers are far from awe-inspiring.
But what’s wrong with Ribeiro and Smith? Those face-off percentages are frankly embarrassing.
Why does Coach Laviolette still allow either player to take a face-off on the power-play? It seems the clear solution is to permanently move Fisher with Ribeiro and Smith. But I digress…
We often see Smith and Ribeiro alternating face-offs. Why does Laviolette switch them up? The answer is rather simple, it depends on what hand the opposing center is.
VS Right-handed Centers in all situations
VS Left-Handed Centers in all situations
Smith is 2.5% more likely than Ribeiro to win vs all righties. Ribeiro is a noteworthy 7.2% better than Smith against all lefties.
Ribeiro and Smith centering a power-play unit is likely not going to be seen next season. The statistics I have gathered are noticed during post-season autopsies. Expect to see Fisher or Jarnkrok between Smith and Ribeiro next season.
The Nashville Predators power-play was potent this season. Shea Weber led the charge with 14 goals and the addition of Ryan Johansen adds another weapon coaches are forced to scheme against. Roman Josi‘s awareness and Forsberg’s craftiness are only going to improve as they get more experience.
The strategy of a drop-pass entry has worked wonders this season. Assistant Coach and Hall of Fame defenseman Phil Housely will continue to tweak the entry. Housely knows a thing or two about quarter-backing a man-advantage.
If the Nashville Predators can raise their face-off numbers, the 2016-2017 power-play may finally be at the elite level Smashville has been waiting for.