The Nashville Predators enter the All-Star break in 2nd place in the Central Division, having collected 60 points in 46 games and surprising most of the league with their consistent play.

On Tuesday against the Canucks, most of the Preds main contributors this season were on display. Filip Forsberg scored two more goals, adding to his already torrid pace this season, and coming within eight goals of tying the franchise career record. Ryan Johansen made a pinpoint wrist shot goal, tying the game for the Preds late in the 1st period. Tanner Jeannot had another goal, camping out in the Vancouver crease and lifting one by Thatcher Demko to essentially seal the game for the Preds in the 3rd period.

Oh and Juuse Saros had 30 saves, winning his 24th game this season and his 100th in his career.

But another aspect of last night’s win, one that might otherwise go unnoticed, indicated again what has been a larger improvement for the Preds this season: special teams.

Preds’ special teams with tremendous improvement

In last night’s 4-2 win over the Canucks, the Preds’ special teams had as successful a night as you could hope for.

Nashville went 2-for-2 on the penalty kill, shutting out the Canucks’ only two power play chances, and they went 1-for-3 on the power play, with Filip Forsberg’s “Ovechkin-like” one timer from the right circle giving the Preds a 3-2 lead in the 2nd period.

Those results are not a fluke. Throughout the 2021-22 season, the Preds have been strong when it comes to special teams.

The Preds power play currently ranks 7th in the league at a 25.2% success rate, which might make most fans double take. The Preds are a top 10 power play team? And have been all season?

Yes, the Preds are a top ten power play team and have been all season.

Back in November, when the Preds had the 3rd best power play in the league, I wrote this caveat:

“If you’ve watched this team for a while, you know that good things don’t last. It would be very “nashville predators” of this team for the power play to fall off the cliff for no reason and then struggle to even get shots off, like we’ve seen for the last 4-5 years. Teams and players go through slumps, and so do power play units.”

Well, the Preds have avoided the cliff so far. Since that article was published, the Preds have scored 21 power play goals out of 90 chances (23% success rate) in 28 games.

The Preds’ penalty kill, which has been somewhat of a cluster in years past, has been a real asset. That unit ranks 11th in the league with an 82.2% success rate. And they’ve been very stingy as of late, killing off 13 of their last 14 penalties in the last four games.

“I think we’ve been pretty good on face-offs, attention to detail has been strong,” John Hynes said of the penalty kill unit last night. “We’ve been able to pressure at the right situations and the right times. Their attention to detail and working as a four-man unit, wether its on our forecheck into our D-zone or to pressure situations where guys are on task and the details are strong.”

And of course, the Preds’ ace goaltender has been very reliable in the net during the PK as well.

“We have gotten very good goaltending also on the penalty kill,” Hynes added. “All those things contribute to those guys doing a good job.”

Power play and penalty kill miles better from years past

But just how much better are these units from previous years?

The numbers are staggering.

The improvement this year compared to the previous three seasons is incredible. The Preds have had one of the worst special teams units in the entire league the last few seasons and this year they’ve had one of the best.

Some will point to the absence of former head coach Peter Laviolette, or more specifically his longtime assistant Kevin McCarthy. That change and the presence of special teams minds like Dan Lambert and Todd Richards have had a huge impact.

But the personnel has improved as well.

Mainstays Mattias Ekholm and Alex Carrier have carried the backend with Mark Borowiecki adding some serious beef to the unit.

Tanner Jeannot, Colton Sissons, and Yakov Trenin, a trio which makes up arguably the Preds’ most consistent line every night, all contribute heavily on the penalty kill. Add the highly skilled Mikael Granlund and face-off wizard Colton Sissons and you’ve got a unit that is tough to break.

Special teams are not a make-or-break part of hockey like some people think. They are important, but you can overcome weaknesses in those areas by being stronger in five on five play, even strength goaltending, puck possession, etc. More often than not, bad special teams is indicative of larger issues on a hockey team.

When a power play is not productive, it can be deflating. When a penalty kill doesn’t keep goals off the board, the game dynamic changes for the worse.

Good special teams play might be indicative of a successful hockey team, but it is no golden ticket. 80% of the game is played at even strength, so keeping the focus there is always wise.

But as Hynes said last night, the improvement of special teams always helps with focus and attention to detail, two things which can lead to winning more games.

“I think if we continue to get better with our penalty discipline, and now you have your penalty killing less but more fresh, giving the other team’s power play less looks, that will help our units to be as focused as they have been the last few games here.”

— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —