Sam Hitchcock takes a look around the NHL for Hockey Prospectus. He also runs the website intelligenthockey.com and is on Twitter @intelighockey
Fun on the man advantage — Part I
Besides Erik Karlsson, the Senators have three capable puck-handlers (Mika Zibanejad, Mike Hoffman, and Bobby Ryan) on the first unit of the power play who can carry in on the entry and gain the zone. The beauty of possessing multiple puck-handlers is that it allows Karlsson to work off the puck. The benefits are obvious: Karlsson has nonpareil acceleration and is a threat to attack off the rush or cut into the slot. Neither choice is good for Ottawa’s opponents. Karlsson is one of the fastest players in the NHL with the puck, and without it, he has only one assignment, which is to generate space for himself. He can do that, and his shot release and playmaking ability make him deadly once he receives the puck.
Of course, this does not mean that Karlsson never leads the entry. He does — and unsurprisingly, he is great at it. But the Senators seem to prefer to let one of their other power-play skaters assume those duties and give their captain the easier assignment. It makes sense. Karlsson is the team’s primary facilitator at even strength. On the power play, not leading the entry decreases his workload and lets him start without the puck so he can be just another attacker.
Fun on the man advantage — Part II
Something cool that the Predators did on their power play against Chicago in Game 1 was to design action to isolate two of their most formidable players in a 2-on-1. Filip Forsberg walked the puck up the wall, did a quick give-and-go with James Neal, who was in the slot, and then passed it to Shea Weber at the point. Weber proceeded to interchange with Roman Josi while Forsberg moved up the boards to meet them. Josi and Forsberg did a give-and-go and Josi dragged the puck and the defender across the middle of the ice. Josi then passed it to the back side where Forsberg suddenly had a 2-on1 with the Blackhawks defender and Neal, who was located in the off-slot. Forsberg gave a hard sell on the shot before passing it to Neal. Although Neal did not score off the attempt, he came close, and the misdirection that was created by Josi at the top got Nashville the shot they wanted.
The Canadiens are also adept at creating mini 2-on-1s on the power play with Subban and Pacioretty as the options for the trigger man and David Desharnais as the playmaker along the half-wall.
Seth Jones and Roman Josi as a defensive pair
Nashville is trailing 3-2 in its series, and Shea Weber is out for the rest of the first round. That is very discouraging news for a team that has had a great season. But if they lose, Nashville fans should take solace from how Roman Josi and Seth Jones have comported themselves in Weber’s absence. The duo has been nothing short of spectacular in this matchup, leading one-man breakouts and routinely carrying the puck 100-plus feet with ease. Often times, it is Josi and Jones who are the Predators’ most consistent scoring threats!
The Predators are on the short end of the Corsi percentage battle, and Chicago’s Toews line has been the most dominant unit of the series. Yet, Josi and Jones fare decently in categories like scoring chances differential, per war-on-ice.com. What they are achieving is stunning; they are doing an effective job of limiting Chicago’s best forwards while being the catalysts for the Predators’ offense. And they are doing that while logging insane minutes.
Utilizing the offensive zone alcove
The terrain around the circles is too congested. The real estate in the high slot and point have become overcrowded. Even the swath of ice below the goal line has become chic to reside in. The best stealth real estate in the NHL right now is when players cross the blue line along the wall and then make a sharp stop, so that they are brushing up against the boards and are barely inside the offensive zone. That spot on the perimeter can become an island because the other nine skaters are charging toward the popular locales. Isolation in the offensive zone is golden and difficult to attain, especially during playoff time. Exploiting this dead spot in the offensive zone allows the attacking player to thumb through his rolodex and assess whether he wants to skate, pass, or shoot.
The Red Wings learn the Golden Rule
The best taste-of-your-own-medicine moment of the playoffs was in the Tampa Bay-Detroit Game 2 when Bolts forward Nikita Kucherov ran interference on Wings defender Danny Dekeyser. Kucherov’s stalling of Dekeyser helped spring Tyler Johnson for a breakaway goal. The Red Wings are notorious for their accidentally-on-purpose intrusion, and seeing coach Mike Babcock cry interference was amusing.