On paper, this is one of the most mismatched categories in the upcoming first-round playoff series. The Hurricanes had the top-ranked power play in the NHL until a couple of weeks ago when they fell to second behind Edmonton, and there are only two teams worse than Nashville in the league on the penalty kill.
Watching the Canes on the power play this season was a spectacle to behold on most nights. Puck movement, speed and execution seemed to click on all cylinders throughout the season, and the power play became one of the team’s most lethal weapons.
Nashville struggled out of the gate this season on the kill, giving up 19 power-play goals barely a month into the season. They struggled in all aspects on special teams, but for the purpose of this article we are just focusing on the PK.
The Hurricanes were great on the power play against Nashville in the regular season, going 9 for 26 (34.6%) with the man advantage. The nine goals were scored in the first five matchups, as the Canes didn’t net a power play goal in the final three games against the Preds.
The Hurricanes were 2 for 3 on the power play in the March 2 matchup, and they went a perfect 3 for 3 in the March 11 5-1 win.
With the addition of Teuvo Terravinen back in the lineup, the Hurricanes add another strong goal scoring option to the power play. Head coach Rod Brind’Amour was still working Terravinen back into the power play towards the end of the season after his return from injury, and he spent time with both the first and second unit.
If Terravinen gets slotted into the top line for the playoffs, he will join Trochek, Svechnikov, Aho and Hamilton. The second unit will have Martin Necas, Nino Neiderrieter, Jaccob Slavin, Jordan Staal and Jake Bean more than likely.
Hamilton and Aho have consistently been reliable on the power play throughout the season, and Hamilton’s addition to the unit last season has been a big reason the Hurricanes have had the success they have. Fans should easily remember the abysmal power play the Hurricanes had just a few seasons ago. Any improvement from that would have made Canes fans happy, but to now have one of the top power plays in the league is just icing on the cake.
Everyone knows about the chemistry that the SAT line has, and adding Hamilton to that gives you an elite unit. Their passing and quickness, along with seemingly always knowing where the others are and what they are going to do is something that cannot be taught, it just happens.
Don’t let the rough penalty kill numbers of the Predators fool you though, the emergence of Jusse Saros has given the Predators life on special teams. Yes, the beginning of the season was bad for the Predators on special teams. Really bad. But since the middle of March, the Preds own the sixth-best penalty kill in the league. Saros has willed his team out of the Central Division cellar to where they are today.
I don’t think anyone thought Saros would be one of the top Vezina favorites when the season began, but he has been that good. With the way he has been playing, it not only helps make up for lapses on the penalty kill, but it makes the team around him better.
Injuries have also been a factor for the Predators throughout the season with guys like Ryan Ellis, Matt Duchene, Eeli Tolvanen, Luke Kunin and Roman Josi all missing at least a handful of games. The most impressive thing is that these players were out during the stretch run over the last month or two, and the play of Saros and the other Predators who stepped up kept them in the hunt and into an eventual playoff spot.
Now that they are back to close to full-strength, the penalty kill numbers speak for themselves. You never want to rely on what happened in the regular season to predict what will happen in the playoffs, and that definitely goes for this matchup.
It would be easy to look at the numbers and say that the Hurricanes should score early and often on the power play, but numbers can be deceiving, and I believe that is the case with this matchup of the Canes’ power play and the Preds’ penalty kill. That isn’t saying that things will go as they have during the regular season, but the Predators have hit another gear with the play of Saros, the return of injured players and now a spot in the 2021 NHL playoffs.
For the Hurricanes it is simple, play the game that got you to where you are. Their success on the power play was a big factor, and continuing their efficiency and success on special teams will be a big help in getting past the Predators.