You know the Nashville Predators are back when you hear people pissed off about the power play.
Fans are complaining. The players are frustrated. The coaches are unsure of what to do, and going to “have to watch the tape.” Even the announcers seem bored when the Preds’ power play begins.
Chris Link and I even recorded a entire podcast episode about the power play this past Sunday. While you should go give it a listen, there’s so much wrong with the power play that even a 40 minute podcast can’t cover everything.
Through five games, the Preds’ power play sits at 27th in the NHL, pacing at 10% efficiency, and looking just like the same ineffective unit we’ve seen for several years.
In fact, that’s actually the main problem.
Preds’ power play NHL worst since 2018
As you no doubt are aware, the Preds’ power play has been bad for years. This tweet from Adam Vingan of The Athletic sums it up nicely.
The Predators are an NHL-worst 73/499 on the power play since the start of the 2018-19 season (14.6 percent).
— Adam Vingan (@AdamVingan) January 25, 2021
That is almost an impressive level of disappointment and ineffectiveness.
But why? Why is the power play this bad, even across two head coaches, multiple assistant coaches, and countless practices devoted to “fixing the power play?”
I went back and watched selections from that terrible 7-0 loss to Dallas last Friday night (you’re welcome). I also went back and watched some games from earlier in the John Hynes era, right when he first came on board. Finally, I watched some games from 2018-19, with Peter Laviolette in charge, to see if anything stood out about the power play specifically.
One thing definitely stood out.
Preds are doing the same thing, but expecting different results
Take a look at the basic setup from the Preds’ top power play unit on Friday night against Dallas.
Notice the positioning of the players. The lone defenseman (Roman Josi) is set up high, running the point. Two forwards (Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson) are on the wings, playing high on the circles. Two more forwards (Matt Duchene, Ryan Johansen) are playing in front of the net, stacked, with one higher than the other.
This is a textbook 1-3-1 setup on the power play. The keys to the 1-3-1 are the “quarterback” directing the attack at the top (Josi, in this case), the double screen in front of the goalie, and the shooting options on the wing.
This isn’t a bad setup, by any means. You can find plenty of NHL teams that run some version of the 1-3-1 with success (the Washington Capitals, for example).
So what’s the problem?
The problem is that the Nashville Predators have been running this same 1-3-1 for their top power play unit for three years now. And it’s resulted in the worst power play in the league over that time.
Take a look at a game from earlier in the Hynes era, this one from a 3-0 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on February 1st last season.
Different players, but the same 1-3-1 setup. The Preds’ power play went 0-for-5 that night.
Here’s another game, this time from December 7th, 2019 against the New Jersey Devils. This was late in the Peter Laviolette era, as you’ll recall.
The Predators ended up winning this game against the Devils, but the power play went 0-for-6.
Let’s go back even further. Here’s the Nashville Predators’ first game against the Winnipeg Jets in 2018, meeting them for the first time since losing Game 7 to the Jets on home ice that previous spring.
On this night, October 11th, the Predators went 0-for-9 on the power play. Here’s the general setup for the top power play unit that night:
Hey look… the same setup on the power play. The same 1-3-1 that we’ve seen almost every game since, and the same setup that is the worst in the league the last three years.
Power play strategy has to change
There are other options other than the 1-3-1.
The umbrella setup, a more advanced and versatile version of the 1-3-1, would be one option. Some might argue the Preds are already using the umbrella power play, but they certainly only take advantage of the 1-3-1’s strategy (quarterback, double screen, etc.) rather than the things an umbrella can give you (i.e., a dynamic puck mover that can move low, behind the net… Matt Duchene would be perfect for this role).
There’s also the overload. This is where the power play unit floods one side of the zone, usually the side where your best shooter (e.g., Filip Forsberg) can have the best angle. This setup also allows for more “low to high” action, getting your best passers in position to get passes off cleanly. This puts more pressure on the defense to block passing lanes and gets the goaltender moving laterally.
Every single power play is the exact damn same thing. No creativity, no improvisation, no urgency. #Preds simply cannot figure it out.
— Alex Daugherty (@AlexDaugherty1) January 25, 2021
Regardless, the Predators simply have to try something new. They’ve settled into a predictable, static power play strategy that is proven ineffective. Opposing penalty kills have grown accustomed to stopping it, and opposing coaching staffs probably spend very little time preparing to stop it. It’s just too easy for them.
If the Nashville Predators are serious about improving the power play, they will implement a new tactic other than the one that’s led to the fewest power play goals in the league in three years.
— Featured image via Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports —