When things go bad in the preseason, people have a tendency to overreact before brushing the problem off completely. After all, rosters aren't set, guys are getting their timing back, and while rookies are going balls to the wall to earn a roster spot, seasoned players are coasting to opening night, trying to stay as healthy as possible.
One thing that's becoming a bit of a concern around these parts, though, is the complete ineptitude of Nashville's power play. The Predators have yet to convert on a single opportunity, despite numerous opposition trips to the penalty box; 19 of them to be exact. As the team nears the end of their trial run and gears up for the real thing, it's concerning for fans. Should we be worried?
Well, yes and no.
While the lack of extra-man tallies is certainly unsettling (and almost bewildering), you have to remember that these players are playing together for the first time. The new players are getting used to each others' tendencies while the returning veterans are doing so while flushing an old system from their minds . As much as it's great to assume players are going to click, sometimes it takes a little longer than fans have patience for.
One unit of particular concern has been Neal, Ribeiro, Jokinen (sometimes Forsberg), Josi and Weber. That's a whole lot of unfamiliarity on the ice, and only a few practices and fake games to get settled in. We knew back in April there were going to be growing pains with this club, and here they are.
The raw numbers paint a better picture, albeit one with an asterisk. More on that later. Looking at the players' numbers over the past three years, Nashville actually has a variety of point producers they can ice on either unit:
|Player||G||A||P||G60||A60||P60||Off ZS % Rel||Fenwick Rel%||TOI/Game|
The numbers are comparable (if not better) over the same span when the team had Martin Erat, David Legwand, and Patric Hornqvist in the lineup. Neal and Weber are unsurprisingly leading the way, and Ribeiro is close behind, though his strong numbers are no doubt helped by his ridiculous run in Washington. Josi isn't counted on to put up huge points, and Jokinen could very well be phased out by Filip Forsberg. Smith, Roy, and Wilson could be a decent second unit, especially if their numbers hold up. In theory, the Predators have the players to have a more than competent power play, especially with Neal filling Hornqvist's vacany.
However, it may not be that simple. In an article last Friday, Jim Diamond mentioned how Hornqvist's penchant for putting himself in front of the net was something that could potentially have adverse consequences for the power play going forward:
It remains to be seen, but losing Hornqvist in the trade that brought Neal to Nashville could have a significant impact on the team's power play success, especially when it comes to the team's biggest threat on the man advantage.
Of Weber's 12 power-play goals last season, Hornqvist was on the ice for every single one of them - all of them. He isn't the most skilled player in the league by any stretch, but the guy is absolutely fearless as evidenced by him placing himself squarely in harm's way in front of the opponent's net when Weber lines up his powerful shot.
He's certainly not wrong. In fact, the team was so desperate for a net crasher that Peter Laviolette had Gabby Bourque filling in that spot in practice earlier this week. Who knows whether that's going to be permanent, but it speaks volumes for Hornqvist. But, like has been said before, Neal is just a better overall player.
Playing on a team that has playmakers like Crosby and Malkin definitely helps, but that alone doesn't turn a player into one of the most prolific goal-scorers in the league. You also have to have some skill of your own, and few players in the league can rip it like Neal can when he has an opening. That is a big element the Penguins are losing -- and that Nashville is gaining.
This is where the major differences come in. While Neal is more of a sniper who overpowers goalies with his shot, Hornqvist is more of a crease crasher who gets in front of the net and scores a bunch of dirty goals. He's going to get the deflections and the rebounds and score from a couple of feet away.
Unfortunately, several skilled parts do not a man advantage make. This gets back to that asterisk: just because the numbers look good, it doesn't necessarily mean they will translate into actual points. Ribeiro, Roy, and Jokinen are all in the decline, Smith and Wilson could go either way, and Ellis, Forsberg, and Jones don't have the track record to really project their production yet.
Does that mean special teams are going to flop? Absolutely not. Chemistry plays a big role on the power play, and it will take a a few more games to work out the kinks of a Frankensteined roster. While the team probably won't reach the top of the charts like they did in 2011-2012, they have the tools to succeed. Have some patience for the first few weeks of the season. If the problems persist, it's a symptom of something much more systematic.