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Nashville Predators vs. Chicago Blackhawks Playoff Preview: Special Teams

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A further look at this 1st round matchup that examines special teams.

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Don't worry... it actually isn't as ugly as you thought it might be when you clicked on the article.

But it's still a little ugly.

Power Play

For all the clamoring from Predators fans about the power play being awful for most of the season (and it was), Blackhawks fans weren't too happy with theirs either. While the Preds finished with a 16.2 PP%, putting them at 25th in the league, the Blackhawks were a mere 1.4% better at 17.6%, good for 20th. The Predators finished with 42 power play goals, the Blackhawks finished with 46.

The main difference between the two seems to be consistent shot production. Below is a comparison between each teams' shots-on-goal generation while on the power play over the course of the year. (Blackhawks in red, Preds in gold.)

Outside of a one to two month span early in the season, the Blackhawks power play has been better at producing shots-on-goal. With the man advantage, the Hawks are more consistent than the Preds -- the variations in their productivity are less pronounced. There is a slight negative slope to their shot production as the season has progressed, but that's not likely very significant. Getting Patrick Kane back will only improve that productivity.

For the most part, the Predators have been as terrible as we thought. In fact, the only reason the Preds finished with a decent percentage was because of that spike around November-December, probably because Mike Fisher returned to the lineup. The rest of the year? Consistently ineffective. I blame both the inability to gain clean zone entries and the "neutral zone back-pass" that we all hate. Please... just stop it already. Get the stupid puck in the stupid zone and produce some stupid shots.

Penalty Kill

Chicago finished with a sizable advantage on the penalty kill over Nashville. Finishing 10th in the league at 83.4 PK%, Nashville managed only 80.8 PK%, good for 18th. The primary goals of the penalty kill? Stop the other team from scoring. You do that by denying time and space for the opponent to work with, cutting off preferable passes in favor of more difficult ones and, of course, getting the puck out of the zone. But regardless of how a team kills a penalty, the end result is the important: did your unit allow pucks in the net?

So here is a comparison of how these teams fared in that respect over the course of the year (note: the stats below are measured in goals against while on the PK, so the lower the value the better).

It's clear that the Blackhawks' PK system was more effective at denying goals. But notice their trend? In the second half of the season, the Hawks PK production has weakened, as they've slowly started allowing more goals on the PK than earlier in the year. The Preds have been more consistent. Consistently underachieving, that is.

4-on-4

If we are anticipating some fisticuffs or post-whistle scrums in this series (and we should be), there may be a significant amount of 4-on-4 time being played. In all games this year, the Blackhawks have managed a 57.6 CF% while at 4-on-4, which is solid. The Predators didn't manage to match that number, but their 54.7 CF% wasn't too shabby either. Here are the season trends in puck possession while at 4-on-4:

As with the penalty kill, Preds' 4-on-4 unit has been more consistent all year, but with a noticeable downward trend in the latter months. Overall, they've been pretty good though. The Blackhawks were absolutely terrible earlier in the season 4-on-4, but have since righted the ship and found ways to maintain puck possession in these situtaions, hence their solid season percentage.

Chicago is a net -1 scoring while at 4-on-4 (4 goals scored vs. 5 goals allowed) while Nashville is +3 (7 goals scored vs. 4 goals allowed). So there's that, I guess.

Conclusions

Power Play:

Give the Blackhawks the advantage, but not as much as you might think. Unless Patrick Kane is truly back, in which case, give them a huge advantage here. The Preds power play will need a complete overhaul in the playoffs before it can prove threatening. (Side note: I refuse to link to the multiple examples here, but we  all know how truly dangerous the Preds power play can be against the Blackhawks... and it's not a good thing.)

Penalty Kill:

Blackhawks advantage again, but don't forget about their recent trend... maybe a sign of weaknesses in that area? As for the Predators, I think the best strategy would just be to stay out of the box as much as possible.

4-on-4:

Let's call it a wash. Both teams have consistent ability to maintain puck possession 4-on-4, but there may not be enough data to support a real analysis here.