There are very few advantages to find in today’s National Hockey League (NHL). Parity has made teams so evenly matched, any team can beat another on any given night. Look no further than tonight’s matchup against the Buffalo Sabres and the San Jose Sharks. Buffalo owns one of the worst records in the league, while the Sharks have one of the best. Yet when the two teams faced off early in the season, it was Buffalo that prevailed in a shootout. With the playoff race for both conferences being so tightly packed, teams must find and take advantage of any opportunities awarded to them in every game.
The power play, especially, can be the difference maker in many games. A successful one can start a comeback, turn a close game into a blowout, or even win a game by itself. Meanwhile, an unsuccessful power play can kill momentum, destroy confidence, and every so often, giving up more goals than it scores. Thursday nights’ games give an ideal look at how important a successful power play can be for a team’s victory and how it can be a key factor in defeat.
Last night, the New Jersey Devils took a 1-0 lead in the first period after a multitude of chances by Ryan Clowe finally found the back of the net. It was a deficit that could easily be overcome by their opponent, the Columbus Blue Jackets, if not for the deadly New Jersey power play. Shortly after the Clowe goal, James Wisniewski took an interference penalty and veteran star Jaromir Jagr cashed in a goal on the ensuing power play. Two-nothing New Jersey. 30 seconds later, Columbus again shot themselves in the foot, with Ryan Johansen taking a hooking penalty to put New Jersey back on the power play. This time, it was Adam Henrique with a power play goal, and a 1-0 game turned into 3-0 in a matter of minutes.
Nashville also used the power play to win the night, scoring all three of their goals in a 3-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on the power play. The Nashville Predators were down 2-0 after the first period, with both goals coming from minute winger, Marty St. Louis. But goals by Matt Cullen and Roman Josi just over a minute apart in the second period tied the game, and a Patric Hornqvist power play goal in the third ended up as the game-winner. Nashville ranks fifth in the league in power play efficiency and remains the only team in the NHL that has not surrendered a shorthanded goal.
A poor power play can also lead to defeat in the NHL, as the Carolina Hurricanes and the Toronto Maple Leafs learned last night. Toronto allowed two shorthanded goals on the same power play attempt in the first period, both coming off turnovers forced by the New York Islanders penalty kill. Michael Grabner scored both goals, and it was joked after the first period that the most valuable players for the game up to that point were Grabner for scoring the goals and Eric Boulton for taking the penalty. Carolina also allowed two shorthanded goals in a 4-1 loss to Dallas, turning a 1-0 game into a three goal deficit by the end of the second period. Carolina had an opportunity to possibly tie the game up when they were awarded a five-minute power play opportunity early in the third period, but the team had failed on so many opportunities up to that point, they seemed more concern about not allowing a goal than scoring one.
Three Stars of the Night:
1. Michael Grabner – Grabner’s forecheck on the penalty kill earned him two shorthanded goals on the same power play. He became the first Islander to score two shorthanded goals on the same power play since 1999, when Zigmund Palffy accomplished the feat. Of course, Grabner had some help from Toronto goaltender, Jonathan Bernier, on his second:
2. Joe Pavelski – Pavelski’s second period hat trick helped the San Jose Sharks turn a one goal deficit into a four goal lead, eventually leading to a 7-3 victory for his club. Pavelski tied the game at two early in the period, then gave his team the lead midway through. He capped off the hat trick at 14:10 of the second period, fighting off two Philadelphia Flyers in the process.
3. Roman Josi – Roman Josi scored a power play goal to tie the game at two all for the Nashville Predators in their game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. It was one of three power play goals on the night for the Nashville club, and Josi’s was an absolute bomb. Just a heads up the Lightning penalty killers: Giving any player that much space to work in the NHL almost never ends well.
Benchwarmer of the Night:
Justin Faulk – Faulk had a rough night for the Carolina Hurricanes, and that’s putting it lightly. He was on the ice, and mostly responsible, for the first three goals the Dallas Stars put up against the Hurricanes, including a shorthanded tally by Jamie Benn. Benn simply blows by Faulk with a burst of speed that the normally-steady young defenseman seemed unprepared for.
This article is one in a series, presented daily, which provides coverage, analysis, and projections for NHL fans.
By Jonathan Gardner