The last three playoff series the Predators have participated in have proven just how important a successful power play can be.
Against Chicago in 2010, the power play went dry and converted just once on 27 opportunities. The Predators lost the series in six games.
Against Anaheim in the first round last spring, the man advantage was effective as the unit went 6-for-27. The Predators won the series in six games.
After beating Anaheim, the power play struggled against Vancouver. The unit missed some golden opportunities, going 1-for-21 in the six-game series loss.
The Predators remarkably ended the season with the NHL’s top-ranked power play – something that makes fans do a double-take when looking at the rankings. They have never had a power play that has been as efficient, consistent and effective as the one this season.
What’s been the difference after finishing in the lower-third of the NHL’s power play rankings in each of the previous four seasons?
“We’ve been executing so much better,” said Mike Fisher, who had 14 power play points this season. “We have similar personnel, but the key is we have two units that can really contribute. A lot of teams only have one strong unit and guys are out there for almost two minutes. We’re not like that.”
As Fisher pointed out, the offensive depth has played a role in the unit’s success.
Not only are defensemen Shea Weber (team-leading 10 power play goals) and Ryan Suter (team-leading 25 power play points) top-notch from the blue-line on the man advantage, but Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis have been quality power play additions from Milwaukee. Couple those defensemen with a slew of forwards that can provide offense and you see why the Predators finally have a reliable power play.
“I thought we had a good power play last year – we just didn’t find the back of the net,” said Patric Hornqvist, who scored eight power play goals in 2011-12. “This year we’ve tried a different system and it really works.”
Predators head coach Barry Trotz believes on-ice communication between the players has made a big difference as well.
“They’ve bought in; they talk about things. I let them do that and let them try things,” he said of the power play. “I love that, when you have to coach less and let them be interactive with it after they get the foundation down. They get a lot of credit for the buy-in because they interact really well.”
Fisher added, “We’re always talking about it, thinking of ways to get better. We changed it up in November and December and spread it out. We’ve been able to throw a lot of different options so we’re not as predictable.”
Heading into their first round series with the Detroit Red Wings, the Predators have the advantage on paper when it comes to special teams. The Predators are one of three teams that have both special teams units ranked in the top 10, while Detroit’s power play and penalty kill are uncharacteristically ranked 22nd and 18th, respectively.
Despite the rankings the Red Wings are still dangerous on special teams, particularly on the power play.
“I don’t look at the ranking all the time,” Trotz said. “Detroit’s power play may not have ranked where you traditionally see [it], but just watching their last eight or nine games they are as dangerous as they always have been.”
If the Predators happen to struggle again on the power play in the playoffs, it would force them to out-play Detroit at even strength, who leads the NHL in 5-on-5 efficiency. Taking advantage of a statistically-average penalty kill will be important for the Predators in this series.
“We can’t lose momentum on it,” Suter said of the power play. “When we’re on the power play we have to keep the momentum.”
Said Hornqvist, “Power play is going to be huge in the playoffs. One or two games in every series can be [decided] by special teams, so we have to keep at it.”