The Nashville Predators have a massive hole to dig out of in their series with the Carolina Hurricanes, down 0-2 in the series, and really looking like they have no answers for what the Hurricanes are doing at both ends of the ice.
Despite John Hynes’ optimism that the Preds’ “looked good as a team” in Game 2, they were shutout 3-0 behind a 32 save performance from Alex Nedeljkovic. This followed a 22 save performance on Monday night, with the Canes beating the Preds 5-2 in Game 1.
One of the biggest reasons for the Preds’ inability to get anything going in either game? Their dreadful power play, which is now 0-for-10 in the series.
Ten power plays, zero power play goals.
Ten chances, ten failures.
In a seven game series, that’s a death sentence.
So what’s going on here? In short, the Carolina Hurricanes’ penalty kill has been disrupting everything the Preds want to do on the power play, but also there’s been a tremendous lack of communication, terrible passing, and, of course, no finishing touch.
Preds miscues & Canes PK pressure
The Hurricanes have the third best penalty kill in the league. They are particularly aggressive on the blue line and use their sticks very well to get in the way of passing and shooting lanes.
This makes for a tough assignment for the Preds’ power play to deal with because of their propensity to need pinpoint passes to make things work. If the setup and passing isn’t near perfect, the power play almost always fails.
Here’s an entry attempt from the Preds’ first power play of the game, immediately after the Canes scored on their power play to make it 1-0. Watch how the Canes pressure on the blueline forces Viktor Arvidsson to dump the puck, then a miscommunication between him and Matt Duchene leads to both players trying to chase the puck.
This leaves Arvidsson with only one play on the puck, and he sends it directly into the stick of a Brady Skjei, who clears.
But even clean entries can be troublesome because of the Canes’ pressure on the puck. Here’s a play from the Preds’ 2nd power play a little later. Watch how even one small mishandle from Filip Forsberg, immediately after gaining the zone, leads to a whole host of problems for the Preds.
That led to a 2-on-1 for the Hurricanes, which led to Juuse Saros’s best save of the playoffs so far, which came shorthanded.
In fact, Saros was quite a busy goaltender while the Preds were on the power play. He faced six shorthanded shots, which by their nature are almost always high danger (lots of breakaways and 2-on-1s). Expected goals when the Preds were on the power play favored Carolina at .87 to the Preds’ .79.
This forced the Preds to start trying different entry points, aware that the Canes were flying up the ice on turnovers. Here’s two different attempts by Roman Josi to pass the puck in (instead of carry it). Both passes are rushed and inaccurate, and the better of the two passes to Mikael Granlund, is sent out of play.
When it comes to power play zone entries and passing, these first two games have been among the least successful I’ve ever seen.
Unfortunately, the Preds’ zone entries and passing were not their biggest problem on the power play in Game 2.
Finishing on power play leads to 0-2 series hole
The Preds’ biggest problem in Game 1 was not getting set up in the zone and not handling the disruptive force that is the Carolina Hurricanes’ penalty kill.
In Game 2, their biggest problem was finishing. In seven power plays and over 13 minutes with the man advantage, the Preds managed 10 shots on goal in 20 shot attempts. Obviously, none of them went in the net.
Let’s look at maybe the Preds’ most important power play of the night. Down 1-0 in the 3rd period, they desperately need to capitalize on what is their 7th power play attempt. Tying the game after everything that’s happened would be a huge momentum shift and could propel them to steal Game 2.
But the Preds’ finishing touch just completely lets them down.
First, here’s Mikael Granlund getting a perfect chance from the slot. With his momentum is carrying him away from the net (because he was late getting to the high slot), he can only get part of the puck on the shot, and he sends it well wide of the net.
Seconds later, Filip Forsberg, probably the best shooter on the team, and from his comfortable spot on the right circle, can’t beat Nedeljkovic. Then Roman Josi sends a weak wrist shot from far out, which is blocked by a defender.
Shortly after that, Eeli Tolvanen finally gets a chance, but his shot is blocked. I pointed out on Twitter that Tolvanen would not have saved the power play on Monday and that he might not make a difference in Game 2. Turns out that was accurate.
Oh and we can’t forget this awful play by Matt Duchene on the same late 3rd period power play.
A no-look, slow, back pass against this Hurricanes penalty kill? That’s suicide. The Preds were simply lucky that Sebastian Aho sent the shot wide on Juuse Saros.
In the end, here’s what the Preds’ power play shots looked like in Game 2, courtesy of Hockey Viz (@ineffectivemath). Not a lot of quality, plenty of misses, and finishers not finishing.
It cannot be understated how responsible the Nashville Predators’ power play is in this 0-2 series hole. If they get a timely power play goal in Game 1, they can steal momentum and maybe avoid a 3rd period collapse. Then in Game 2, if they get just one their seven power plays to succeed, they have the game tied. Getting that game to overtime, you felt like they could steal Game 2 as well, especially with how Juuse Saros was playing.
The prevailing question over the next two days will be “can the Preds overcome an 0-2 series hole?”
Unless they solve their power play, I think the answer is emphatically “no.”
— Featured image via James Guillory/USA TODAY Sports —