By Jim Diamond
With their power play struggling mightily a month into the 2014-15 season, it’s no great surprise that the Predators are tinkering with their man advantage units in an attempt to inject some life into a power play unit that is clicking at just 11.1% through 12 games, ranking them 25th in the NHL entering Wednesday night’s action.
Last season, the Predators finished the season with the league’s 12th best power play at 19.2%. Even better, they did not allow a shorthanded goal against all season, the first time a team accomplished that in a full 82-game regular season.
For a team that in recent years has relied heavily on its power play to generate offense, the fact that the Predators currently sit with an impressive 7-3-2 record to this point reflects improved 5-on-5 scoring.
On their current six-game road trip, the Predators have shuffled the deck on their power play units, most evident in the players used on the points. Early on in the trip, they had just one opportunity on the man advantage in each of the first two games. They failed to score on their one in Edmonton last Wednesday, but cashed in on their one chance in Calgary Halloween night.
In their most recent two games, they had four opportunities in each game, scoring on one of the eight.
The most curious deployment of players on the point came in Nashville’s final power play Tuesday night in Winnipeg against the Jets. At 14:53 of the third and the Predators trailing 2-1 at the time, Winnipeg’s Toby Enstrom was sent off for delay of game as a result of directing the puck over the glass.
On the ensuing faceoff, Matt Cullen and Roman Josi were deployed to the points, leaving team captain Shea Weber on the bench. He did get on the ice at the end of the power play, but just three seconds before it expired though.
Despite being a forward, Cullen is not new to playing the point on the power play, but having him play 1:57 of 2:00 while keeping one of the most dangerous players in the league on the bench trailing by a goal late in the third period is odd to say the very least. The Predators were credited with one shot on goal and another three that missed the target during that power play.
After sustaining an upper-body injury in the Predators first preseason game, Cullen returned to game action at the start of the current road trip. Cullen played for and won a Stanley Cup with Laviolette when they were with the Carolina Hurricanes together.
Granted, it is a small sample size, but it appears that Weber has been dropped to the second power play unit with Ryan Ellis on the other point. Josi and Cullen were on the ice to start three of the four power plays Tuesday night, including the pivotal final one late in the third. Something is off when in eight minutes of power plays; Cullen finishes with 4:33 of ice time and Weber just 3:27. The game’s official score sheet had the Predators with just two shots on goal in their eight minutes of power play time.
In Sunday night’s win in Vancouver, Nashville had four power plays, again three of which started with Josi and Cullen on the points.
Following Tuesday’s game, Illegal Curve posted audio of Predators head coach Peter Laviolette from his post game press conference. Laviolette was asked about having Weber and Ellis together on the power play and he said, “They play power play together, it depends on where we are at with the rotation, but they are all capable, Roman, Elly, Shea, they are all capable offensively.”
Capable? Sure. But only one of those players had 12 power-play goals to lead all NHL defensemen last season – Weber, a guy most would think should be on the ice for more than three seconds of a late-game power play with his team trailing by a goal.
Many factors can contribute to what players are put out on the ice for any given situation. Who was on the ice when the penalty was called and for how long, as examples. With Nashville being the road team these last four games, they have to put their players out onto the ice before the home team, so the matchup advantage goes to the home coach. But even if you are the road team, if you have Weber at hand for a power play, that is one matchup you dictate as a coach no matter where the game is being played.