This week’s Predators mailbag is full of power play talk and this team’s inconsistencies.

In this week’s Nashville Predators mailbag you all asked questions about the struggling power play, why this team has all of the sudden turned inconsistent and what the real ceiling for Juuse Saros is.

The Predators’ power play has been bad as of late as the group has posted a mark of 0-for-18 over the last six games. Despite the poor form, Nashville’s power play still sits fifth in the NHL ticking at a mark of 22.2% on the season. This tells us that the Preds’ power play was really clicking prior to the current six-game stretch without a goal on the man advantage.

Prior to this woeful stretch, Nashville’s power play managed the third most power play goals in the NHL with 43. Through what was a span of 50 games, the team averaged just under 3.5 power play situations per game, averaged 9.3 shot attempts while on the power play with an average of 4.9 of those shots being on net. During this current 0-for-18 stretch, the team is averaging three power play opportunities per contest. Through the six-game stretch the Preds are averaging 10 total shot attempts with an average of 5.4 of those shots being on target.

In looking at those numbers, the Predators are actually managing more shot attempts and more shots on target during this 0-for-18 stretch than they were averaging through the first 50 games of the season with what was the third most successful power play in the league. With that being said, a bit of leeway needs to be given simply based on the smaller sample size compared to the larger, but nevertheless those numbers speak for themselves.

Another category to look at is scoring chances on the power play. Over the last six games Nashville has averaged four per game on the power play and with an average of three power plays per contest; that’s a rate of just 1.33 per opportunity. Through the previous 50 games the Preds averaged 4.7 scoring chances which turns out to be 1.34 scoring chances per power play opportunity during that stretch. Through the first 50 games of the year the Preds were in the bottom half of the league in scoring chances on the power play and they still sit in the bottom half of the league in that same category over their last six games.

In summary, the Preds’ man advantage is still a top-five unit in the NHL, but the recent woes are a bit concerning. Also, the Preds were simply beating netminders at the start of the year during scoring chances and right now they aren’t. The creativity simply hasn’t been there and the team has relied heavily on slapshots from the point, which you can’t really blame them too much due to the personnel on the blue line. Getting the puck down low and getting players other than Viktor Arvidsson and Scott Hartnell out in front seems like a simple fix, but it may be exactly what the team is missing.

Juuse Saros is the future in net for Nashville and with the step he’s taken in development between last season and this season and simply the numbers he’s posted this year, the future seems bright for both him and this organization.

It’s easy to forget that the Finnish netminder is only 22-years-old and won’t turn 23-years-old until April 19; he’s still extremely young to say the very least.

Saros is also in the perfect situation for any young, soon to be No. 1 in the NHL as he’s backing up a fellow Finn in Pekka Rinne and a player and person he’s looked up to all throughout his hockey journey. It also helps that Rinne is in the middle of without questions a top-three season of his career which doesn’t put too much pressure on Saros in terms of changing up the team’s game plan of when to rest Rinne and start Saros or anything along those lines.

Saros has been exceptional this season when his number has been called. His record of 5-4-5 may be a bit deceiving, but his 2.44 goals allowed average and .924 save percentage speaks for itself as do his three shutouts on the year.

This offseason will be interesting as Saros will be a restricted free-agent and while the team will without question hand him a new contract, he’ll be due a bit of a pay raise from his entry-level contract of just over $692,000. Rinne is signed through next season and will be 36-years-old at that point in time.

This is the million dollar question at this point in time with the team struggling over their last six games. You could easily point at the 3-1-2 record over the last six games and also point out the fact that since the Preds have come from behind in each of those contests and managed to post that winning record that they’re a resilient bunch that knows how to win. I don’t think there is anyway one could argue of the fact that this team is special in the fact that is has shown that it can find ways to win in pretty much every situation imaginable.

That’s a positive, but you don’t necessarily want to be playing below average hockey with less than 30 games left in the regular season, especially amid a wild race both atop the Central Division and Western Conference standings.

I think most can see that special teams, specifically the power play efforts at the moment aren’t helping this team at all. You can point out that the blue line hasn’t been up to par on the defensive side of things either and finding itself as a group in odd-man situations far too often as well.

But outside of the play on the ice, you could also look at the fact that this team has been playing a lot of hockey as of late. In the month of February the Predators have played eight games in 15 days which included a four-game East Coast/Canada road trip. It’s not going to get any easier however as the Preds still face one back-to-back stretch and a total of six more games in the month of February which in total will see them play 14 games in 27 days this month.

I’m not one to point out the difficulties of an NHL schedule simply due to the fact that every team ends up playing 82 games in one form or the other, but the Predators have played a lot of hockey as of late. Even after the loss to the Flames on Thursday night, Ryan Johansen echoed the sentiment of just how much they’ve played this month and said that the team was going to stay away from the rink and away from hockey on Friday before gearing up for the Red Wings on Saturday and a back-to-back on Monday and Tuesday.

This team has the talent, but maybe the fix is a simple clearing of the head and time away from the rink. It seems simple and almost foreign seeing as how these are professional athletes, but maybe it changes the team’s mojo a bit and allows them to get some of that confidence back.

 

Stats via Natural Stat Trick.