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Woe No More? A Powerplay Knight in Shining Armor Rides In…


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The Nashville Predators have never truly been a “powerplay” threat, even when they had players like Paul Kariya and, briefly, Peter Forsberg. Yet they have had success in the past with their powerplay, even finishing 10th overall in the league in 2005-2006. However, that’s about it.

Since that season, Nashville has averaged a final ranking of 24th in the entire league on their powerplay, which is completely baffling considering the players who are/were on the roster have nearly all played for Nashville’s AHL affiliate the Milwaukee Admirals at one point in time.

What do the Admirals have to do with this? Oh nothing but enjoying one of the best powerplay percentages over the past few years averaging 9th best in the league with a 18.9% average conversion rate during that time (since 2005-2006 AHL season). If the Predators even scraped close to that position, there would probably be some Central Division banners hanging in the rafters of the Bridgestone Arena by now.

Yes, Nashville’s ineptitude on the man advantage has cost them dearly over the years. If the Predators had a better powerplay: Chicago may have never won the Stanley Cup two years ago, Nashville may have gotten out of the first round against San Jose in those back-to-back years they played them and could have used one of their strongest rosters to date and made a Cinderella run through the playoffs, and Peter Horachek wouldn’t be hounded as much by the die-hards in Nashville who blame him for the powerplay struggles. There are MANY things that you can look back at and say, “Hey…a stronger powerplay would have helped out there.” However, why look in the past when we can look at our much brighter future?

On June 9th, 2011, Lane Lambert was announced as Peter Horachek’s replacement, who would be subsequently replacing Brent Peterson’s position after he retired from coaching. Lambert had been the bench boss the last 4 seasons with the Milwaukee Admirals. This is the first coaching change the Predators have seen in nearly a decade (2003 – Peter Horachek was hired).

Lambert has been able to maintain a winning environment while boasting one of the AHL’s best powerplays as well. Last year, Lambert had to work with the multitude of injuries and call-ups throughout the season and still was able to produce an effective powerplay, even with the chemistry issues that are possible due to the mix-matching of lines.

Milwaukee ended up this past season with the 7th best powerplay in the AHL and have increased their powerplay percentage every year in the time that Lambert was the head coach. Talking with Ryan Miller of AdmiralsRoundTable.com (not of Buffalo Sabres fame), I got his opinion on all the changes that surround a minor league team’s roster every year and how Lambert maintained such an effective and improving powerplay during his tenure:

While injuries and callups may have kept the forward lines changing on the power play, I think it was the steady and consistent presence of high hockey IQ defensemen that helped get the numbers to where they were.  Roman Josi, Jon Blum, Aaron Johnson, Teemu Laakso, Grant Lewis, and Brett Palin all excelled quarterbacking the power play, as many of the team’s goals either came from their sticks, or rebounds off of their shots from the point.

I don’t want to give the impression that the power play was smooth every time out there.  7th overall in the league is nice, but there were many nights when nothing clicked, and fans would shout “Shoot!  Shoot!” from the stands, as players were waiting for lanes to open up for shots.  But when the power play was at its best, all five players were outworking their opponents in all parts of the offensive zone, and that concept of outworking has been a staple of Coach Lambert’s from the beginning.  And it fits nicely with the organization.

Now, with so many players on Nashville’s current roster already having played for Lambert in the past, will Lambert be able to transfer his powerplay success in the AHL to these players who already know his system and the ones that don’t? Ryan Miller gave me his two cents on this as well:

I think it’s tough to say.  While familiarity will be an asset in dealing with the players on a day-to-day basis, I think that the new breed of PK’s that he’ll be facing will bring new challenges that he didn’t face in the AHL.  It sounds kind of silly and “well duh” to say it, but the speed of power plays in the NHL are completely different animals than in the AHL.  You have a little more time to be cute with the puck down here and wait for a guy to move to make your play.  Linus Klasen could be a star on the power play down here, but he wouldn’t have been very effective in Nashville.

I think Coach Lambert will be successful because he will demand detailed play from his units, but I don’t think that previous work together in Milwaukee will be the driving force behind the success.  Sure, there may be some similarities….The power play will continue to go through Shea Weber.  But what will be key is what everyone is doing on the power play when they don’t have the puck.  If they play the detailed game that Coach Lambert will preach, I expect the PP ranking next year to be better than the 26th best they were last season.

Could Lambert be Nashville’s “knight in shining armor” for their powerplay? Peter Horachek couldn’t figure it out. Barry Trotz couldn’t even figure it out even after he publicly said last season he would be taking a more “active role” in the special teams. Lambert could be entering a vast and treacherous swamp that has rarely seen success. If Lambert can instill this concept of “outworking opponents” during the powerplay, it would be a fresh change of pace from the usual “waiting for lanes” that Predators fans are used to seeing with their team right now

If Trotz does indeed put Lambert in charge of the powerplay this season, Predators fans can only hope that it no longer will be known as a “man advantage”, but as a TRUE “powerplay”