Imagine this, an opposing player makes the lonely skate towards the penalty box after being whistled for a minor. Public address announcer Paul McCann announces the infraction followed by, “your Nashville Predators are on the,” setting the crowd up to yell, “power play!” but with that the crowd cringes.
Well, if you watched enough Predators’ games last season it’s actually not that difficult to imagine. It’s no secret, Nashville was far from stellar on the man-advantage last season, leading to references such as “man-disadvantage” or “the powerless-play.”
Don’t worry, this is not another piece that looks to drag up those miserable times all over again. In fact quite the opposite, the Nashville Predators power-play will look completely different in the 2019-20 season for the better. The acquisition of Matt Duchene and his six power-play goals last year will help, but the biggest addition may not be on the ice.
The Predators hired Dan Lambert as an assistant coach and the now-former Spokane Chiefs head coach has been a perennial winner everywhere he has landed. He led the Chiefs to the WHL Western Conference Final, success that the team hadn’t seen since 2011. In his first season as the Kelowna Rockets’ head coach back in 2015, Lambert won the WHL championship and was an overtime goal away from winning the Memorial Cup, losing 2-1 to the Oshawa Generals.
To go along with all that winning, Lambert knows how to produce offense. Both times during his two seasons in Spokane the Chiefs finished in the top-10 in goals-for, ending with the third-most in 2018-19 and the sixth-most in 2017-18.
A Historically Good Power Play
The wins on Lambert’s resume would attract most professional teams, but over the past few seasons, other than the playoff hump, the Predators haven’t had much trouble winning. Head coach Peter Laviolette has done a relatively good job leading Nashville through the labyrinthine that is the Western Conference during the regular season. Although adding another coach who has winning pedigree doesn’t hurt, it is the power-play where Lambert will have the biggest impact.
Last year Lambert’s Chiefs led the WHL with the best power-play, clicking at 29.1 percent. This stat wasn’t just good enough to pace the WHL, but it was the second-highest across the CHL (WHL, OHL and QMJHL). It also landed them in the top-10 for best power-plays seen in the last 10 years in the WHL. But, the precision with the man-advantage didn’t end when the regular season concluded. Spokane led the WHL with the best power-play in the postseason, operating at 36.1 percent, converting 13 times on 36 opportunities.
From WHL to NHL, Lambert’s Power Play Success Translates
If you’re cynical and are screaming “that’s junior hockey, not the NHL!” this one’s for you. Yes, all the success mentioned came when Lambert was coaching at a lower level, it can’t be denied, but Lambert got to put his skills to the test in the big-leagues and the results were similar.
In the 2015-16 NHL season, Lambert served as the assistant coach for the Buffalo Sabres. This may sound painfully familiar for Predators fans, but the season before the Sabres finished dead last in the NHL on the power-play, ending the season with just a 13.4 percent efficiency, a full 1.6 percentage points behind the next lowest total. In 2013-14 they finished with the second-worst power-play – to put it simply, the Sabres had set up home in the basement of that statistical category.
Related:WHL Coaching Carousel Revs Up
However, after Lambert’s lone season, Buffalo finished with the 12th best power-play, jumping from 13.4 percent with the man-advantage to 18.9 percent. It didn’t end there either, although Lambert was hired to become the head coach of the Rochester Americans the nest season, the Sabres continued to make strides finishing the 2016-17 season with the league’s best power-play, clicking at 24.5 percent.
What Should Be Predators’ Expectations?
Now, Nashville hasn’t had that bad of a stretch, but they did find themselves looking up at the rest of the NHL when it came to the power-play last year, finishing dead last and converting just 12.9 percent of the time.
Lambert mentioned on the Predators official podcast that he feels teams who look for the perfect play often struggle, something that Nashville could be accused of last season. The Predators would often make one too many passes and failed to get shots on net when on the man-advantage. Lambert also stated that he wanted the players to buy in to the mentality of “just attacking” and becoming “predictable to each other and not the opposition.” Overall, Lambert was optimistic that Nashville has the pieces already in place to turn their power-play around.
Buffalo didn’t have anyone on their roster in 2015-16 that the Predators can’t match player-for-player with right now. So, there will be no excuses for Nashville not to give Lambert the tools needed to get the job done. During that 2015-16 season where Lambert was running Buffalo’s power-play the Sabres had three players tied for the team lead in power-play goals with eight, Sam Reinhart, Jack Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly. The stat lines for those Sabres’ power-play leaders during the regular season were mediocre at best. Reinhart recorded 23 goals – 19 assists – 42 points, Eichel had a 24-32-56 stat line, while O’Reilly had the best year out of the trio with 21-39-60.
The Predators have players of equal ability if not better, and by better we’re counting Eichel as a rookie, not the player that he is today. Ryan Johansen is capable of recording 70-plus points, his career-high is 71, Filip Forsberg’s is 64 points and Viktor Arvidsson’s is 61. The point is, if Nashville didn’t possess the players capable of producing similar numbers that Buffalo saw from their players then it would be unrealistic to expect a dramatic improvement with the power-play. However, it has been proven season after season that the Predators have elite scorers and it’s those players who will likely spear-head the Predators’ top power-play unit.
Now we’ll never know how Buffalo’s revamped power-play would have fared in the postseason as they failed to qualify for the playoffs in 2016. The Sabres also missed the mark again in 2017 when they had the league’s best man-advantage unit. But, the numbers show Lambert’s influence on the power-play translates at both levels. Therefore, his postseason success at the junior level is fair and valid when trying to establish a reasonable expectation next year for the Predators. More importantly, if Nashville can find their way back to the playoffs next season, an improvement on 0-for-15 can’t be that hard – after all it can’t get much worse.
It was promised the painful memories wouldn’t be brought up, sorry!