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Predators vs. Avalanche Series Preview: Avs Special Teams

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Evaluating how the special teams battles could play out.

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

An old moniker about the NHL playoffs is that the teams with the best special teams win games. If that’s true, it’s horrible news for the Nashville Predators.

Since the start of 2018, the Predators have the 28th-ranked power play, also known as “the fourth worst in the NHL.” They have only scored 14.8% of the time while holding a man advantage.

These are not problems that can continue if the Predators want to make some noise these playoffs. Here is what the Predators can try to fix the power play.

Overview of power play/penalty kill systems

Power Play

Umbrella

The Umbrella system is exactly as it sounds. Two players stand towards the net in the middle of the slot, forming the umbrella pole. Meanwhile, one player stands at the top of the umbrella, centered at the blue line, while two other players hang just a tad above the face-off circles near the boards.

The two goals in the umbrella system are to either have the player at the top of the umbrella fire a low wrist or snap shot through traffic, or to have one of the two players by the top of the circles fire a one-time shot. Regardless of which option is chosen, the two players down low in the slot then attempt to shovel home any rebounds.

Overload

The goal of the overload system is also true to its name, as the team on the power play hopes to overload one half of the offensive zone with their players. Most overload systems have one player below the goal line, one low on one side of the boards, one player in front of the net, and then two defensemen up at the blue line. If a line was drawn connecting each player, nearly the entirety of either the left or right side of the offensive zone would be covered while the other half would be empty.

This system gives teams a lot of options. Common plays are operating a give-and-go between the player on the boards and the player below the goal line. The defensemen both need to have hard shots, but more importantly they need good puck handling skills. Of course, the player in front of the net is there to net as many garbage goals as possible.

While important with any system, it is imperative in the overload to be constantly moving. The moment an opponent is sucked in to the player with the puck, passing lanes are open. If an opponent is being sucked in to the puck-handler while rotating with a teammate, a quick drop pass can easily result in a lopsided 4 on 3 or a dynamite give-and-go scoring opportunity.

Penalty Kill Systems

Box

A trend that’s clear to see, these names accurately reflect the physical look of the set up on a coach’s whiteboard. In this penalty kill system, all four defenders should be positioned at the corners of a box were one to connect them with lines.

The goal of the box is to shut down the middle of the ice. It doesn’t really matter if the other team has the puck on the perimeter, as that means that they likely aren’t getting quality scoring chances. If an opponent isn’t in a good scoring position with the puck, there is no reason to chase them from their current post.. That being said, it’s not an aggressive, turnover-producing system, so the team on the power play likely can possess the puck for long lengths of time.

Diamond

A counter to the umbrella power play, the diamond is, once again, just as one would expect. One defender is attempting to cut off the puck from the attacker quarterbacking the play from the center of the blue line, while two other defenders try to deny shots from the players up by the top of the circles who are looking for one-timers.

The glaring flaw with the diamond is if the defender trying to disrupt the centered blue line attacker. If that attacker is able to get a shot past that defender, the attacking team has a two on one advantage down in front of the net. Nevertheless, despite its clear drawback, some teams choose to run this system.

The Colorado Avalanche Power Play

Coming in at 8th best in the NHL, the Colorado Avalanche have a lethal powerplay. Their first unit of Nathan MacKinnon, Tyson Barrie, Gabriel Landeskog, Tyson Jost, and Mikko Rantanen has been picking teams apart. However, the second unit of Colin Wilson, Samuel Girard, J.T. Compher, Alexander Kerfoot, and Sven Andrighetto has not been as effective. In fact, that second unit barely plays on the power play at all, as the Avalanche elect to keep that first unit on the ice as long as possible.

hockeyviz.com

While they run an overload system, it is fluid in that they don’t just play to one side of the ice. After setting up their system on the left side, they’re flexible and willing to rotate the puck behind the net and then run it from the right side.

What this does is pull the opponents up top away from the lone shooter in the middle, Tyson Barrie. Of course, to pull this off, you need not one but two players who are capable of playing the puck from the side boards on opposite sides. In Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog, the Avalanche have the tools necessary to do so.

This means that the Predators’ penalty kill is going to struggle to keep up with the play and stay in formation. Furthermore, if 4v5 aficionado Austin Watson tries to dive and block a shot, he’s going to have to dive a much further distance to do so. The Avalanche rotations are crisp, clean, and deadly. Be very afraid of their power play.

The Colorado Avalanche Penalty Kill

If there’s one area the Predators could be in trouble against Colorado, it’s when the Predators are on the power play. The Colorado Avalanche have the 4th-best penalty kill in the league, preventing goals 83.3% of the time. Nearly only once out of every six penalties does an opposing team score against the Avalanche. That’s terrible news for the Predators. The good news is that the Avalanche took the 7th-most penalties this season, so the Predators should still get their opportunities.

hockeyviz.com

Their penalty kill hinges around Patrik Nemeth, who often will play minutes on both the first and second units. The other three members of the first unit are Gabriel Bourque, J.T. Compher, and Nikita Zadorov. The second unit includes Carl Soderberg, Mark Barberio, and Matt Nieto.

They run a very aggressive box system, where they try and rush whoever is getting space and/or time. While this creates a lot of turnovers, the Avalanche also has to make sure that they don’t get caught out of position. Here are two examples from their last two games of exactly that happening.

In the first clip, all four Avalanche players are not only below the face-off circle hashmarks, but all within the slot. In the second clip, #83 Matt Nieto chases Vince Dunn of the Blues deep into the corner. However, nobody moves to the point, letting St. Louis easily transition the puck back and over to the other side of the ice to make an easy play.

The Predators’ umbrella power play has not responded well to pressure this season, often coughing up the puck and letting the other team dump and change. The Predators’ power play has been abysmal this season, and it shouldn’t be any better against the Avalanche.

Conclusion

If the Predators win this series, it will not likely be because of special teams. They are outmatched, out-rotated, and just flat out worse than the Avalanche. Hold onto your seat-belts when the Avalanche are on the power play, and don’t expect much when the Predators have the man advantage.