The Nashville Predators have found that guy in Scott Hartnell.
Hartnell has taken on the role of net front nuisance for the Predators’ power play, a unit that netted the game-winning goal on Tuesday in a 4-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche.
“It’s huge,” Filip Forsberg said of Hartnell’s role on the power play. “He’s one of those guys, he’s just drawing attention. Everybody knows that he’s a sniper. Obviously, they have to cover him and that gives the rest of us more time. He’s doing a really good job.”
The Predators currently sit third in the NHL in power-play percentage at 28.6%, compared to their 16th-place finish last year at 18.9%. It is early in the season, but the Predators have been able to find some success, in part thanks to Hartnell. In the past, the power play unit has had the scoring talent to put the puck in the net, but lacked the grit to get to the dirty areas and find the tip-ins and screen the goalie.
“I’ve known Hartnell for a long time, anybody that watches the game knows him that he’s good in that area,” said head coach Peter Laviolette. “He fights for his ice, he’s hard to play against in that area, he’s got a good hand-eye coordination with his stick for tips and rebounds. He gets his shot off quick. Again, I thought the power play was pretty good tonight. It was moving it around well.”
Nashville’s lone power-play tally on Tuesday came in the second period on a five-on-three advantage. Filip Forsberg set a pass across the goal mouth to Josi, who put the puck behind goaltender Semyon Varlamov on the second whack to put the Predators up for good.
They also were the beneficiary of a four-on-four goal when Colton Sissons burst to the net and tucked one past Varlamov before being shoved into the netminder, inexplicably drawing a charging minor in addition to the goal.
The power play can become increasingly important in games like these. Between the two teams, 12 penalties were called in this game, with each team scoring a power-play goal each. That sheer number of penalties showed itself in the number of shots the Predators managed to get off. After putting just seven shots on net in the first period, the Predators proceeded to get 27 shots on net in the second two periods.
On top of Hartnell, P.K. Subban and Josi have also joined the top power play unit, patrolling the blue line together on the man-advantage. That’s also been a boon for the Predators.
“We’re getting our poise now,” said Ryan Johansen. “Getting more comfortable, more games under our belt. We’ve got Hartnell, who’s a new face on the unit and [Subban] and [Josi] at the top, which is new. I figured it would take us a few games to get going, but I like the poise we had tonight and the execution that led to some chances.”
Power play units are supposed to inherently be inclined towards offensive skill, but for the Predators so far, they’re looking for the grease and grit on the man-advantage, with Hartnell in the lead.
And as Forsberg pointed out, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
“Just shooting the puck and battling in front of the net,” he said. “The goal was a shot and then another shot and it went in. I think that’s the biggest thing. We haven’t scored the prettiest goals, but we’re there and we’re scoring and that’s all that matters.”