After finishing one series against a lethal power play, the Nashville Predators will have to double their efforts if they hope to contain the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets, advancing after beating the Minnesota Wild four games to one, had the 5th-best penalty kill in the regular season, with the 8th-best penalty kill to boot.
For those unfamiliar, it’s important to have a brief overview of the basic power play and penalty kill systems used before diving into Winnipeg’s special teams. If you need a refresher, check out our Avs series preview here, which has a good explanation of umbrella, overload, box, and diamond.
Winnipeg Jets Power Play
If there’s anything that the Predators can do to stop Winnipeg’s power play, it is to neutralize Patrik Laine, although that task may be too tall. A catalyst shooting from the high left circle, Laine has scored 20 goals this season on the power play, also picking up 11 assists with the man advantage. Is it really effective for the Jets to run the power play through one man? Well, they have the stats to back it up: 5th overall power play, 8th overall road power play, and only 11 short handed goals conceded. The chances of the Predators scoring shorthanded is even lower considering two of those eleven goals happened in the first ten minutes of a Predators-Jets meeting on March 13th against backup Hutchinson. Expect the Jets to adjust, be ready, and not get burnt like that again.
However, it may be unfair to Blake Wheeler to claim that the power play just runs through Patrik Laine. Wheeler leads the Jets with a whopping 40 points on the power play this season, contributing six goals and 34 assists. The strategy deployed by the Predators’ penalty kill should still be to take the passing lanes to Laine away, but they still will have to deal with Wheeler’s high hockey IQ.
No team was better on the power play against the Predators than the WInnipeg Jets. The scariest part?
Patrik Laine did not score against Nashville once this season.
That’s right. No team was better against the Predators than the Jets, and their greatest weapon didn’t even score. Be rightfully terrified.
The Jets generated a surprisingly low amount of high danger goals on the power play, partially because of their strategy to have Laine shoot from the point. They only created 19, good for 28th in the NHL (for reference, Nashville created only one more, for 20 total). Out of those 19 high-danger goals, 5 came against Nashville. That’s 26.3% of the Jets’ high danger goals for the season coming against the Predators. Oh, they also scored an additional time for 6 power play goals against Nashville on the season, tops in the league. Their 11 high danger chances against the Predators was 4th in the NHL too. Certainly the Jets played the Predators more than a lot of teams, but the numbers are still pretty concerning, especially that 26.3%.
So, what do the Jets do?
Going to the systems linked above, the Jets run an umbrella, the same system that the Predators use. What has been very interesting in the Jets’ games against the Predators is that, despite their strengths being lethal shots from the point, it’s been on the rebounds where the Jets have cashed in.
In the following example, if you pause just two seconds in, you can see the Jets all lined up in the umbrella. After the shot comes in, that “second stem” of the umbrella, Kyle Connor, is completely unmarked. At the start, Colton Sissons bites on a fake shot from the center of the umbrella, drawing Roman Josi out of position as he tries to block the shot instead of keeping tabs on Connor. Saros makes the stop, but the rebound comes up and Connor is able to react before Josi, who turns around all too late.
Granted, credit is due to the Jets and Connor, as they seem to know the exact moments when the duties of Nashville defenders change and strike right at that time. In this next clip, Connor is marked by Ryan Ellis. However, he slides into the slot and, right at that moment as he changes from being Ellis’ responsibility to P.K. Subban’s, the Jets find Connor.
You see, pulling the trigger on the power play isn’t simply shooting the puck. It’s making the correct pass or shot in the very instant the opposing team has a change in structure or responsibility. Even though the Jets run the same umbrella power play as the Predators, that is why their power play is so much more effective.
As a final point, as evidence that the Jets’ power play has figured Nashville out, here is yet another clip of them scoring from, once again, the “second stem” of the umbrella.
If you think that this looks like the first clip, you are absolutely correct. The only difference is that, instead of a rebound, there is an instant pass from the lowest point on the umbrella stem. Instead of Roman Josi, it is Mattias Ekholm that this time tries to block the shot and gets pulled out of transition. His responsibility, Mark Scheifele, is left unchecked and easily buries a puck past Pekka Rinne.
All three of these clips are goals scored down low. For a team known for scoring power play goals through Patrik Laine at the point, the Jets have specifically adapted their puck flow for the Predators and have been abundantly successful in doing so. If the Predators adjust and emphasize covering down low, then there’s room opened up top for Laine and the Jets can switch back to their bread and butter power play.
If the Predators cannot stay out of the penalty box, they will be in grave danger.
Winnipeg Jets Penalty Kill
With the 8th-best penalty kill, the Jets have been no slouches when on the receiving end of a penalty. Furthermore, they have the 6th-best road penalty kill. If you were expecting a reprieve for the Predators with the man advantage, guess again.
The Predators generated 11 high danger scoring chances over 5 games against the Jets’ penalty kill, ironically the same number of high danger scoring chances that the Jets had against the Predators. However, instead of converting on four of those chances like the Jets were able to, the Predators only scored one high danger goal against the Jets.
Honestly though, out of the five goals that the Predators scored against the Jets this season, three have been flukes. There was a Kyle Turris goal where Mark Scheifele was hurt blocking a shot and couldn’t skate. There was a P.K. Subban goal from the point that hit the post, bounced off of Connor Hellebuyck’s back, and went in. Finally, there was a wrist shot by Mattias Ekholm from the blue line that somehow snuck in. While the Jets consistently scored with authority against the Predators’ penalty kill, the Jets’ penalty kill has just been plain unlucky against the Predators. Sure enough, the Predators own a 1.179 PDO against the Winnipeg Jets while on the man advantage.
Out of the two remaining Predator power play goals against the Winnipeg Jets, one was the standard “defense passes it around until someone takes a slap shot/one timer” Predator fare, but the other was this nice goal here. Back in November, the Predators were willing to mix things up on the power play, staying from the normal umbrella that people are so (painfully) accustomed to. Here, Kyle Turris, the “second stem” of the umbrella, shifts outside of the rigid system. Roman Josi spots Turris and makes a perfect pass as Turris one times the puck into the net.
Unfortunately, this kind of creativity has not been present on the Predators’ power play for some time. They have their system and stick with it, rarely confusing opponents. In their three meetings since this goal on November 20th, there was not one instance of this kind of creative positioning on the power play against the Jets.
The Bottom Line
Change. Adapt. Evolve. The Jets’s special teams are able to do so, the Predators are not.
No team in the league owns the Predators’ penalty kill like the Jets. They strike with authority the moment an opportunity presents itself. The Predators have been lucky and lethargic against the Jets’ 8th-best penalty kill in the league. Granted, the Predators’ penalty kill has been lucky and lethargic against pretty much every team in the NHL. If the Predators want to advance to the Conference Finals, they need to keep their heads cool and stay out of the box. If they cannot do that, it is a guarantee that the Jets will make the Predators pay.