The two Stanley Cup finalists have found their way to the fourth round by getting different results from their power play units. The Penguins have sizzled along on the man advantage, checking in at a 25 percent success rate with a playoff best 14 goals on 56 opportunities. Nashville, well, they’ve been able to win despite scoring at a 14.9 percent rate up a man with only seven goals in 47 chances.
That difference isn’t too big of a change from the regular season where Pittsburgh was strong as usual (23.1 percent) while the Predators were middle of the pack scoring 18.9 percent of the time. And that Nashville power play will take a hit with Ryan Johansen unavailable for the series.
We know the talent Mike Sullivan can throw over the boards when it’s power play time, but one surprise has been Justin Schultz, who has stepped in and filled the quarterback role admirably with Kris Letang done for the year. In 19 games he has two goals and six points in nearly 50 minutes of time with the unit. Sidney Crosby (7 points), Evgeni Malkin (10) and Phil Kessel (11), as you’d expect, have done much of the heavy lifting up front.
Pittsburgh power play finds ways to create shots. Talent does that. Through 19 games, they’ve ripped off 86 shots in 93:25 of man advantage time, via Natural Stat Trick. Pekka Rinne is already preparing to be busy.
As they’ve done throughout the postseason, Nashville’s defense has played a big role in the team’s offense at both 5-on-5 and on the power play. P.K. Subban (5 points), Roman Josi (3) and Ryan Ellis (2) lead from the back production-wise, with Playoff Colin Wilson (3) the biggest producer from the forward group.
While Pittsburgh’s big three handles majority of their shots, the Predators let their blue liners fire it from the point and hope for deflections and rebounds in front. Of their 60 shots, 23 have come off the sticks of Subban and Josi.
The optimist says that the Predators’ power play is ready to turn it around. Of course, the realist sees how it’s struggled since the regular season and shouldn’t expect much of a drastic change the Final.
The Predators’ strength on defense at even strength also comes through when they’re down a man. They’ve killed off 88.1 percent of power plays this postseason, thanks to their blue line and the play of Rinne.
In nearly 75 minutes of shorthanded time, Nashville has limited opposing power plays to 53 shots, with Rinne only being beaten five times. They will be tested against Pittsburgh, a team that fires a lot of rubber at goalies and capitalizes when given the opportunity.
The Predators’ lack of success on the man advantage should play into the hands of the Penguins who have done a nice job at killing 85.5 percent of power plays faced in these playoffs. The shorthanded unit is also a threat to score having done so twice this spring thanks to Jake Guentzel and Matt Cullen.
But with a lineup that’s been hit injury every round, and a defense group that’s mixed and matched for much of the postseason, Pittsburgh has had difficulty keeping shots out, allowing a total of 91 through three rounds. Fortunately, Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray have done a decent job of stopping them. That will need to be tightened up so as to not give life to a struggling Nashville power play.
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