Missing in Action: The Nashville Predators power play

As the Predators-Blackhawks series heads to Chicago for Game 5 on Saturday, Nashville has been able to compete in 5-on-5 play (outscoring the Hawks 5-4, although with 2 empty-netters), but special teams have been another matter. While Chicago has scored three power play goals, another figure has Preds fans sweating these days:

0-for-17.

The Nashville Predators haven't been able to connect at all with the man advantage, including a lengthy 5-on-3 opportunity last night.

So what's to be done about this?

Power Play progressively problematic

Preds fans have complained quite a bit in recent years about the mediocre power play, and with good reason - although one can give the team a pass for the 2007-8 season considering how much elite talent left over the previous summer, they've had more than enough time to retool and recover. Instead, however, we've seen a steady decline:

5-on-4 data from Behind the Net
 Season Goals per 60 min. Shots per 60 min.  Shooting %
 2007-08 5.2 (23rd) 45.5 (21st) 11.5 (21st)
 2008-09 4.9 (28th) 46.9 (26th) 10.5 (27th)
 2009-10 5.0 (29th) 50.5 (16th) 9.8 (29th)

So much for the folks up in the stands yelling "SHOOOOOOT! SHOOOOOOT!" The old mantra about just firing pucks on net doesn't seem to be working. The problem here is that the team PP production has gone from bad to worse just as their primary weapon (Shea Weber's slap shot) has developed into an elite offensive force.

Bottom line? When Nashville gets the man advantage everyone in the building knows what the game plan is. Big #6 lines up for a slapper, perhaps with a secondary option like Jason Arnott available to try and force a defender into playing one or the other, but not both.

That strategy, however, often leaves the rest of the unit hanging around waiting for something to happen, rather than actively working to create new shooting lanes and making the defenders move to counter them.

The end result is that more shots are coming from further out from the net, which is likely the main factor in why the shooting percentage has declined to miserable levels.

Some fans are getting downright cranky, launching an online petition calling for the ouster of assistant coach Peter Horachek. At one point Horachek was considered to be in charge of that unit, but in responding to criticism earlier this season, Barry Trotz declared that responsibility for all aspects of the team are shared by all of the coaching staff, and that specific assignments like that are no longer in effect.

UPDATE: Based on this, this, and this, it appears that the power play has indeed been Horachek's responsibility this season. I'm heading over to sign that petition. I'm also looking for that Trotz quote that I mentioned in the last paragraph, but until I can find it, I'm willing to lay blame here at Horachek's door.

Solution 1 - Denis the Menace

There is, however, a more practical solution available that can be implemented in time for tomorrow's Game 5 at Chicago - inserting Denis Grebeshkov into the lineup. While he hasn't played since his injury last month, the assertion from Trotz is that Grebs is physically ready to go. He has skated in practices and game-day skates for weeks now.

So what's the problem? If it's nerves, or the ability to get back up to game speed, the only way to work through those obstacles is to get on the ice and into the action. The earlier this is done, the better. As the series progresses, those pressures only get worse, not better.

The guy is an excellent offensive blueliner, whose 5-on-4 offensive numbers both this season and last season are nearly identical to Chicago's Brian Campbell (who was ushered back into the lineup as quickly as possible). He also brings a different look to the attack with his puckhandling & passing skills, along with his propensity to cut into the prime scoring areas when the opportunity presents itself.

Solution 2 - Capitalize on Rebounds

Even if Patric Hornqvist is able to play (and who knows how likely that is?), this is perhaps the most dire aspect of the Nashville power play. I ran the numbers for both last season and this one, taking all the power play shots for each NHL team. Defining a rebound as a shot which occurs within 4 seconds of another shot (without another intervening event such as a faceoff), the Nashville Predators were one of the worst teams in the NHL at getting to rebounds and turning them into scoring chances.

The Preds ranked 26th this season with 5.2% of their power play shots being turned into rebound opportunities. By comparison, the league average was 7.1%, and the leaders (Colorado, Montreal and Washington) were above 10%. That may not sound like much of a difference, but since the shooting percentage on rebound chances is much higher (over 30% as opposed to 12% for initial PP shots), that's a significant issue.

Last year, the Predators were dead last with a PP rebounding percentage of 4.7% - so Hornqvist has perhaps helped somewhat. Unless a guy like Grebeshkov can provide an instant jolt, however, Nashville needs to consider throwing pucks on net from everywhere and battle for rebounds to get that moribund power play rolling.

Hopefully I'll get to publishing the data on this over the weekend, so stay tuned for more about rebounds as offensive opportunities.

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