The Nashville Predators, still seen by most as likely sellers at the trade deadline, have won two straight games and are starting to look like the team we thought they would be.
Granted, they’ve beaten two other bad teams in the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Detroit Red Wings to get there, but they are now at 8-10-0 and slowly climbing back up the Central Division standings.
One reason they’ve been able to get back in the win column is the play of their special teams, most notably their power play.
Preds’ power play picking up
Over the last five games, the Preds’ power play has scored four times in 15 tries. That works out to a 26.6% success rate, which is good even for teams with consistently productive power plays. And for the Preds, it’s fantastic.
The #Preds power play is 4 for its last 15 over five games. Doesn’t sound like much, but a ~26% is a huge improvement for that unit.
— Alex Daugherty (@AlexDaugherty1) February 24, 2021
Going back even further, the Preds’ power play unit has scored seven goals in its last 28 tries (over nine games), which is good for a 25% success rate. That’s also impressive.
Remember, this is the same unit that has been consistently terrible for the last few years, and somehow got worse under John Hynes initially.
While some of this production can be explained by just shooting a higher percentage (luck has a bit to do with that), there’s one key change that has directly resulted in a more dangerous unit. This change was apparent in Tuesday night’s 2-0 win over Detroit.
Eeli Tolvanen, Filip Forsberg balanced attack
Every power play needs a balanced attack. Scoring options need to be available from all angles. This is something the Preds have struggled with over the years, but they seem to have figured it out.
The key is to have two great shooters on both sides of the ice, with a distributor at the top (Roman Josi) quarterbacking the unit. I went into detail here about the Preds’ troubles with the 1-3-1 power play, but I also pointed out that this particular formation is a good one to use, if you do it right.
In the Preds’ case, those shooters are Filip Forsberg, Eeli Tolvanen, and Ryan Ellis.
Here’s a screenshot of the first power play goal from Tuesday against Detroit.
Forsberg had just taken the pass from Josi at the blueline. He has three options here: shoot, pass across to Tolvanen, or regroup and reset if there is too much traffic.
He elected to shoot and scored the Preds’ first power play goal on the night.
Then, later in the period, the same situation emerges, only this time, Forsberg passes:
Both goals resulted from the same setup: Forsberg and Tolvanen on opposite sides of the formation with Josi at the top. Both shooters are capable of scoring and passing with the puck, meanwhile Mikael Granlund and Ryan Johansen are in front waiting for rebounds.
The Preds have also had recent success with Ryan Ellis in Eeli Tolvanen’s spot. Here’s a power play goal from February 11th (also against Detroit) where you can see the same setup:
Ryan Ellis doesn’t have the same quality shot that Tolvanen does. But he shoots with plenty of power and he knows how to position himself well enough to improve his chances of scoring. He can also pass well out of his position on the wing, something Tolvanen probably needs to work on a bit more.
Is the Preds’ power play fixed?
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
The power play unit needs to put together more consistency over a longer time span to prove it’s effectiveness. A 25% success rate over nine games is encouraging, but 11 other NHL teams have had over 25% success all season long.
Moving forward, the Preds are likely to keep the Tolvanen, Forsberg pairing together on the power play. Tolvanen is too good of a shooter to not keep him on that unit. You might even see the two switch sides, so Tolvanen can crank one-timers on the right circle. As a left-handed shot, he’s made his living on the right side of the power play throughout his pre-NHL career.
If the Nashville Predators can keep up the good work on the power play, their ability to keep winning obviously improves. Keeping Forsberg and Tolvanen together is a big part of that.
— Featured image via Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY Sports —