The following is a new feature wherein I’ll discuss the Nashville Predators with a member of the Preds media or blogosphere. Today I will be discussing the problems with the Preds power play with Kate, the co-managing editor of On The Forecheck.

Alex: Ok, Kate, let’s be honest. The Nashville Predators power play is terrible. Through 25 games, the Predators have 14 power play goals, tied for 20th in the league, and their 14.7% success percentage is 28th in the league. To add to this madness, their personnel is virtually unchanged from last season, where they finished a respectable 12th in the league in power play percentage and 6th in total power play goals. They still have dangerous shooters and playmakers like Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, and P.K. Subban (though he’s missed time with injury) out there running the unit, so there is no reason that the power play shouldn’t be better.

But it seems to be much, much worse.

So, my question to you is: what the hell is going on? Is it the scheme or is it the personnel?

Kate: The biggest thing for me is that the power play seems like it got lucky a lot last year. Watching it, it seemed static and with a tendency to over-rely on the point shot, and when I look at shot rates and locations they bear out the idea that it was a lot worse than it looked if you just look at the goals or conversion rate. This year, weirdly, it actually seems to be doing better in those respects, but the Preds just can’t buy a goal. So some of it’s just luck.

Filip Forsberg Nashville Predators power play
Filip Forsberg leads the Preds with 16 power play goals since the start of last season. Image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports.

Some of the rest might be due to filling in for people on IR with less skilled players, but I feel like a lot of the problem with the Preds’ power play is just that they’re trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. They have these skilled defenders, and they want to use them on the power play. It seems like they’ve built the system around the players instead of looking at what works and coaching the players to do that. I think the scheme is such a mess we can’t even fairly evaluate all the players.

I’d change the way the players on the power play units are being used way before I tried to change who the players on the power play were.

What about you? What would you like to see them do differently?

Alex: SCORE GOALS.

(You set me up for that one.)

Ok, for real, I’d like to see a lot more low-to-high and high-to-low action.

The Preds have the whole lateral passing thing down, particularly above the circles. Mostly because, well, the defense is just going to let them do that. It’s nearly the least dangerous area in the defensive zone. Sure, the goalie has to move laterally a little bit, but when the shots are so predictable, lateral movement is pretty routine. It’s glorified practice.

But when you start moving from low to high (and high to low) you can get more gaps in the defense. Spread them out a bit more. It’s not hard to understand that a defense needs to be spread out to create holes, but that’s not what the Preds are doing. They are just passing laterally, generating point shots (generally from lower percentage shooters like Ellis or Josi). Spread that defense out and fire away only after you’ve generated some gaps in that defense.

Here’s the real stumper: why in the world is Nick Bonino on the power play so much? Even before the Turris injury, he was out there quite a bit.

Kate: I don’t even know what Nick Bonino is doing on the power play. Do you know how many times he’s shot the puck, all season long, over his 54:25 of power play icetime? Nine. That’s just about exactly one attempt every six minutes, or every three fruitless power plays. On the one hand, that’s more frequently than Ryan Johansen. On the other hand, if Bonino could pass like Johansen can his contract would be fantastic instead of bad.

Nick Bonino Nashville Predators
Nick Bonino has one power play goal this season, despite playing over 54 mins on the power play. Image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports.

What makes it worse is that Bonino is the net front guy. In theory, he should be the one scooping up the rebounds from point shots and working to jam the puck into the net. Instead he’s kind of just a goalie screen who sometimes blocks shots. Colton Sissons has done a little better in a bit less time and the same general role, and I’d like to see him get more opportunities, if we’re going for the “bottom-six forward gets regular power play time” strategy. Calle Järnkrok has also done pretty well, but in a different role.

Should they be replacing Bonino with Sissons, or Ryan Hartman, or Pekka Rinne in a funny hat, or what?

Alex: I’m with you. I’d like to see more Sissons and less Bonino on the power play. That’s a bit like saying I’d like more dish cleaning and less toilet scrubbing in my household chores, but I suppose that’s where we are. Choosing the best from a list of bad options.

Ryan Hartman is an interesting suggestion. But I wonder if his best attribute, his speed, would get hemmed in/neutralized. He’s the best replacement for Arvy that they’ve got. How’s his jumping ability, I wonder?

There’s just so many issues. Top players injured. One dimensional strategy. Poor substitutes for key roles. Bad luck.

Let’s finish this off. If you had to make one suggestion for Peter Laviolette/Kevin McCarthy regarding the power play, what would it be?

Kate: They need to start using the defenders more flexibly and with a view for their strengths. Subban is okay where he is, if you’re going to go for the traditional model, because he’s good at getting shots through from the point, but he really needs to be on a unit with a net front player who will shoot.

Ryan Ellis actually seems to be settling closer to the net this year, closer to the Ovi Spot than the point, which is something I’ve been hoping for for a while. That’s a good start. He’s either taking a while to adjust to the new angle or he’s just having bad luck, but he’s putting himself in a better place to score from.

And honestly, if Roman Josi is going to shoot as much as he is–he leads the team in total shots taken per hour on the PP by a little and in shots on goal per hour on the PP by a lot–he needs to be given one of the spots that you’d label “F” on a diagram of the power play. I’m not sure he’s necessarily a low-percentage shooter, like you said, so much as that he shoots from low-percentage spots. You can’t be taking a third of your team’s shots from the point–if he’s going to be up there, he needs to be distributing more instead.

— All stats via Natural Stat Trick and Hockey-Reference. Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —

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