The Nashville Predators PP: Powerful At Last

One particularly enjoyable aspect of the Nashville Predators' season so far has been the power play, which has defied all expectations, currently ranking 4th by the NHL's conventional measure, PP%, at 20.4%. It has connected for at least one goal in 5 straight games, providing a boost which keeps Nashville in the middle of the overall Goals Per Game standings, and remains at this point perhaps their most dependable area of performance so far.

But Preds fans can't help but wonder. Is all this too good to be true?

Here's what Barry Trotz had to say on the subject at the Skate of the Union over the summer (jump to the 4:30 mark):

The key points that he discussed then were to get more shots on net and diversify the attack beyond Shea Weber. So how's that working out so far?

Team-wide, shots are up

Well what do you know, for a team which has struggled so mightily in the Shots For & Against battle in 5-on-5 play, the power play is indeed firing pucks more often:

Season 5-on-4 Shots For/60 Minutes Rank
2011-2012 52.6 11th
2010-2011 46.6 24th
2009-2010 50.5 16th
2008-2009 46.9 26th
2007-2008 45.5 21st

Now, I don't think the difference here is that visible to the naked eye during a particular game (the difference is less than a shot per game on the PP), so it's not like the mob yelling "SHOOOOOOOT" is really going to be pacified any time soon. That's OK, however, as frankly I'd rather continue to have that message drilled into the Preds' heads!

One likely cause that I know people will point to is the addition of Lane Lambert to the coaching staff, but it doesn't appear that we can give him all the credit here. I had the chance to attend practice today, and it was Barry Trotz at one end of the rink working the PP units, being very vocal and demonstrative about how he wanted the group to set up and attack the penalty killers. As he's faced some of the criticism in years past for the power play's failures, we have to give him credit for not only coming up with a scheme that's been more effective, but doling out the ice time differently, too.

Young Guns Leading Away

The major change up front we've seen is how much the young guns have taken over. The Preds' top 3 forwards in power play ice time per game are Colin Wilson (who is in his 2nd full NHL season), Patric Hornqvist (in his 3rd), and Craig Smith (in his 1st).

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this PP rejuvenation, however, is the fact that the guy we'd expect to be a major force in front of the net, Patric Hornqvist, hasn't cashed in so far. Despite all that ice time, Hornqvist has zero points in 5-on-4 play so far this season! He does have a goal and an assist in 5-on-3, but that's like shooting ducks in a barrel Bridgestone Arena compared to 5-on-4, which is how 90% or more of power play time is spent.

Nashville Predators 5-on-4 Ice Time, Scoring, and Ice Time Difference from 2010-2011

Ryan Suter D 29 4.10 1.01 1.01 1.51 3.53 7.56 +0.83
Shea Weber D 29 4.06 1.53 2.55 0.51 4.59 8.67 +0.58
Colin Wilson C 29 2.79 2.23 1.48 1.48 5.20 8.16 +1.13
Patric Hornqvist LW 28 2.66 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 3.23 +0.04
Craig Smith C 29 2.57 3.22 0.80 3.22 7.24 8.85 rookie
David Legwand C 25 2.40 2.00 3.00 4.00 9.00 9.99 +0.86
Martin Erat RW 21 2.33 0.00 2.45 1.22 3.67 6.12 -0.21
Mike Fisher C 21 2.08 1.38 0.00 1.38 2.75 9.64 -0.21
Sergei Kostitsyn RW 23 1.99 1.31 2.62 0.00 3.93 7.87 +0.13
Jonathon Blum D 27 1.33 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 1.67 -0.06

Data from Behind the Net

That's right, Shea Weber & Ryan Suter are actually getting more power play work than they did last year, due to a number of factors: the departure of Cody Franson, Francis Boullon's time on the injured list, and the fact that Jonathon Blum hasn't yet been able to command more of a role there. Weber leads the team with 4 power play goals, and Suter is just behind with 3, so the diversification goal hasn't been met yet, but I'm sure not going to complain.

There was one wrinkle I saw at practice today which may provide another answer on the blueline, but I'll just sit on that until we see it in game action, before looking at it as anything more than an idea bandied about on an off-day.

Up front, however, I'm struck by the ascension of Wilson & Smith, along with the greater role that David Legwand is playing. It's refreshing to see a coach willingly hand the keys over to the kids when they're getting the job done, rather than condemn them to a supporting role in favor of veterans. We see the same factor at work in Edmonton, where the 6th-ranked Oilers PP is led in ice time by names like Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle & Hall.

Built To Last?

The question on all our minds, of course, is whether this is just a mirage, or will the Predators' PP continue to rise to the challenge?

There's actually some good reason for optimism here; while I've had no hesitiation to call "FLUKE" on goal-scorers like Sergei Kostitsyn and Blake Geoffrion last season, the Preds power play appears to be the real thing so far. Fundamental metrics (Shots For) are driving the results here, not some fluky shooting percentage that's bound to fall back to earth (the Preds are 8th in 5-on-4 shooting percentage at 13.2%).

And just think, they've gotten this far without significant scoring contributions from Patric Hornqvist. If he can start popping a few in, that area which has long been a sore spot for Preds fans could develop into a real source of pride.

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