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Here’s What Worked: Pekka Prime, Special Teams

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The Preds have been playing well this week leading up to the final stretch run. Here’s why.

NHL: Calgary Flames at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Preds are riding a three game win streak going into the game against the Islanders tonight. They find themselves in 3rd place in the Central and are looking perfectly primed for a playoff run.

But how have they been doing it? Let’s take a look at some promising trends that have contributed to what’s been working over the last few games.

Killin’ Those Chances

On Thursday, the Flames had five chances to score on the power play and five times they came up empty handed. As I mentioned in Saturday’s preview, this is only the third time all season that the Preds did not allow a power play goal when giving up at least five power play opportunities.

On Saturday, the Sharks managed to get one goal in four chances on the power play, but later in the game Viktor Arvidsson got his 5th shorthanded goal of the year to balance things out.

The Preds penalty kill has not been all that great this season, but they’ve been playing well recently. Since the Kings went 3-for-3 on the man advantage against the Preds back on March 9th, the Preds have managed to kill 17 of their last 20 penalties, which is well above their season average of 80.3%.

A leaky penalty kill can be devastating in the playoffs, so increased effectiveness in that area of the game is more than welcome.

Power Play Revived

The Preds power play had been struggling going into the Sharks game, going 2-for-19 in the previous nine games. It seemed like the combinations were there, but the passes and shots just weren’t connecting. They also hadn’t been getting a ton of chances—19 chances in nine games works out to just over two power plays a game. Practice makes perfect and the Preds hadn’t been getting a ton of practice.

Against the Sharks, the Preds employed one of their preferred power play tactics, the 1-3-1. You can read some about the 1-3-1 here, as there are many different types, but the Preds have been implementing the “low release” 1-3-1, with Ryan Johansen being the key trigger man (F3, in this diagram):

Here’s what this tactic looks like in action. The Preds found themselves on the power play in the 2nd period. After Joey wins the offensive zone draw, the puck comes back to Forsberg, who gets the puck to Arvidsson on the half wall. Arvidsson is playing the role of the F1/F2 in the diagram above.

Arvy knows the key to this tactic is when Joey has the puck in the low slot, below the goal crease. So he gets the puck to Joey.

From here, Joey has three options. If pressured, he can get the puck back to Arvidsson. He can also cycle the puck around to Josi/Forsberg if he really gets in trouble. But his best options are to either find Neal in the slot or to send a cross ice pass to Josi for a one timer.

Joey wastes no time. As soon as he receives the puck, he goes to Neal immediately.

Joey’s pass wasn’t the greatest, but Neal digs the puck out and roofs it by Jones anyway.

The low release tactic gives Joey, the team’s best passer, a number of options to choose from. If the Sharks crash quickly on Neal (which, in this case, they didn’t have time to do), he can shoot the puck over the Josi or Arvy, who can either shoot or get the puck to Forsberg at the point. Or, if the Sharks let Joey roam free with the puck, he can move closer to Jones and look for a shot or maybe switch the puck to the other side.

It was great to see the power play unit clicking again (Neal got his 2nd goal of the night on the man advantage as well), but it’s also great to see that there is a tactical approach to improving the unit overall. A number of successful teams run some form of the 1-3-1 on the power play and the Predators would be smart to stick with it.

Pekka Prime

Over his last eight games, Pekka Rinne has been money. He’s stopped 221 of 238 shots faced for a .929 save percentage and the Preds have gone 5-1-2 in those games. Rinne has been a huge part of the Preds recent success.

On Thursday vs. Calgary, Rinne was especially locked in. Sure, the Flames hit a few posts, but Rinne did a great job stopping the shots that he needed to, including a high number of dangerous shots. (Charts from HockeyViz.com)

That’s a lot of great shooters Rinne is denying, guys like Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. He did a great job cutting down the angles, even though the defense in front of him was allowing a larger number of shots from the center of the ice. Cutting down angles when the shots are coming from the outside is easy; cutting them down when they are coming from the slot is very difficult.

Rinne was also a big part of the penalty kill effort. As you would imagine, when you go on the penalty kill five times, your goalie is going to have to make some big saves. Rinne did that, and he did it against some of the Flames top talent no less.

If the Predators want to continue this hot streak, they will need more solid performances from Rinne. And if they want to go further than they’ve ever been in the playoffs, they will need Pekka Prime to make permanent residence in the Nashville net.