Early Power Play Struggles Doom Predators in Round 2 Opener

Nashville managed just 5 shots in their first 4 power play opportunities in the opening loss to Phoenix in the Western Conference Semifinals.

I t was the number one power play in the regular season in the NHL.

In 82 regular season contests, the Nashville Predators scored 54 power play goals in 250 opportunities for a league-leading 21.6% conversion rate.

Since the beginning of the playoffs, however, the power play has struggled. After the Detroit series, Nashville was just 2-for-22 on the power play, with a 9.09% conversion rate, 14th among the 16 playoff teams.

Thus far, Nashville’s performance with the extra man has been a far cry from the explosive regular season power play.

In fact, at one point of the third period of Friday night’s Western Conference Semifinals opener against the Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena, the power play had dropped to an almost absurdly low 2-for-26.

It was a game that Nashville had every opportunity to jump ahead of Phoenix, drawing 5 power plays and outshooting the Coyotes 42-24. Yet, in the end, Phoenix finished with the advantage in the most important column, winning the first game 4-3.

Nashville had to play catch-up through the entire game, with Phoenix’s Radim Vrbata beating Pekka Rinne with on the man-advantage to open scoring early in the first and putting the Predators down 1-0.

The Predators would get a chance of their own a few minutes later when Vrbata went to the penalty box for a high stick. However, Nashville managed just one shot-on-goal in the initial power play sequence.

Nevertheless, the Predators Brandon Yip would take advantage of a misplayed puck by the Coyotes’ Mike Smith to tie the game up at 14:09 of the first.

The two teams remained tied for the first period, but Phoenix’s Rostislav Klesla put the Coyotes back in the driver’s seat at 3:05 of the second period.

Shortly thereafter, Nashville again had a power-play opportunity when Phoenix’s Martin Hanzal went to the box for elbowing. In this sequence, Nashville did not manage a single shot-on-goal.

Through the first two power play opportunities of the contest, Nashville had managed just one shot.

Despite the lack of power play production, Nashville still managed to get an equalizer, as Andrei Kostitsyn pushed the puck past Mike Smith in a scrum in front of the Coyotes net at 11:19 of the first.

Phoenix managed to jump back ahead at 3:33 when Phoenix’s Mikkel Boedker broke into the Predators zone on a 2-on-1 with only Kevin Klein able to make it back in time to defend. Nashville was again down a goal.

As the clock wound to zeroes for the end of the second period and Nashville trailing 3-2, Phoenix’s Antoine Vermette was tagged with a holding penalty. Nashville would begin the third period again on the power play.

Nashville’s third power play opportunity of the night – the first two minutes of the third period – produced their best chances of the night to that point. During the sequence, the Predators managed 3 shots on net – all stopped by Smith.

With desperation starting to set in, the Predators received another man-advantage at 6:29 of the third when Vrbata was again penalized – this time for delay of game. This time, Nashville managed just one shot. At this point in the game, Nashville was 2-for-26 for the playoffs and had just 5 shots in 4 power play opportunities, despite drastically outshooting the Coyotes (Phoenix was held to just one shot in the third period).

At 14:57 of the third, with the clock winding down and with the Predators clawing to get back into the game, Nashville was given one final power play opportunity when Phoenix’s Boyd Gordon went off for a holding the stick call. Finally, with 4:42 remaining in regulation, Nashville’s power play arrived. With the second shot of the sequence, Martin Erat finally managed to put a puck by Smith and tie the game.

With no more scoring in regulation, the two teams went to the locker room to prepare for an extra stanza – Nashville’s first of the playoffs, but Phoenix’s sixth. The two teams remained deadlocked for 14 minutes. However, at the 14:04 mark of the first period of sudden death, Phoenix’s Ray Whitney zipped a puck by Rinne to put the Coyotes up a game in the best-of-7 series.

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A native of Franklin, Tennessee, Patten Fuqua is the managing editor of PuckScene.com. He earned a Bachelor’s of Science from Belmont University in Journalism and Broadcasting.