Nashville Predators: Power play could be Achilles’ Heel come playoffs

GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 15: Kyle Turris
GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 15: Kyle Turris /

What once was a strength of the Nashville Predators is now a weakness. What is wrong with the power play and can it be fixed?

They are the best team in the league. Even the points standing says so. Their roster is arguably the deepest of all teams, with seven players with 40 or more points. Fourteen have at least 20 points. The starting goalie, Pekka Rinne, is now the prohibitive favorite to win the Vezina Trophy. His backup, Juuse Saros, is second in save percentage of goalies with 20+ starts in a backup role. There are plenty of areas in which the Nashville Predators show their greatness.

And, there are a few weaknesses as well. All teams have them. For the Predators, they lead the NHL in penalty minutes per game (10.7) and penalties (278). Those items are somewhat concerning, but having a top-five penalty kill helps covers those sins. Still, it is not the biggest issue with the Predators today. That distinction is given to the Predators’ power play.

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How bad is it?

Remember the days on the middle school playground when kids would try to one-up another in a battle of “yo momma” jokes? Well, I will try to explain it this way: The Predators power play is so bad it makes onions cry. Or, the Predators power play is so bad even McDonald’s won’t add it to the menu.

Okay, I know. I was never good at those type of jokes. Maybe my jokes make the team’s power play look better.

But, it is true. The power play for the Nashville Predators has been powerless lately. Since March 1, the Predators have been on the power play 49 times. They scored three goals when in the man-advantage in that time. Three goals in just over 82 minutes when on the power play. In those 82 minutes, the Predators only obtained 65 shots and given up 14 shots to their opponents. Six opponent shots were in the last four games.

Here is the math:

3 goals/ 49 chances = 6.12% success rate

3 goals/ 65 shots on goal = 4.61% shot percentage

Another interesting fact: the Predators have an equal amount of goals on the power play as they do short-handed since March 1. Opponents have three times as many goals on their power play than the Predators. That gives the Predators’ an 83.6% penalty kill, right on their season average which is fifth best in the NHL.

Can it be fixed?

I am certain it can be. Now, I am not a hockey coach or player. My guess is that many of you reading this are in that boat as well. However, with what coaching and playing experience I do have, and what I know about hockey, let me give my thoughts.

The common play for the Predators while on the power play is to line up three players at the blue line and drop pass to a player skating toward the line. Usually, the player receiving the pass is P.K. Subban or Roman Josi. They rush to the line to start the possession in the offensive zone. The team then spends the better part of the next minute passing the puck from stagnant positions at the point. There is little movement anywhere. The Predators’ opponent will pack in around the net, deflecting a shot from the point and clearing the puck.

Often, their opponent will guard the blue line and poke-check the puck away, eliminating the offense before it starts.

What I witness from other teams, such as the Penguins and the Lightning, is they keep players moving in the offensive zone. A player behind or beside the net rotates with someone in front. Skaters at the point move from side to side, keeping their momentum. This spreads the defense apart, giving more space for centering passes and shots. It also allows for players to keep the puck in the offensive zone more. It is easier to skate after a puck when already in motion.

A second way to improve would be to go for a breakout pass, utilizing the speed of the forwards. Let Subban take the puck back by the net, but pass it toward the blue line to Filip Forsberg or Craig Smith. If they can’t rush to the slot and shoot, they will skate until the team is in the zone together.

Next: Tricky path to the division title

What I do know is their performance on the power play must change before when the playoffs arrive. Last year, the Nashville Predators averaged over 7 minutes of time on the power play each game. If they want to win the Stanley Cup, they must win on the power play.