The Nashville Predators finally gave up on the idea that some of their best players needed to kill penalties. Instead, they focused on who might be the best penalty killers.
Six weeks later, they are one of the National Hockey League’s best when it comes to defending the power play.
“You find guys who are really committed guys; guys who are extremely hard working; guys who are really good team guys and will do anything to win,” coach Barry Trotz said. “Those guys tend to be better penalty killers than some others who won’t throw their body in front of a shot and won’t have that extra battle.
“… Sometimes when you expand it to different guys they’re going, ‘Well I’m on power play and penalty kill and I really want to be committed to the power play.’ So there’s not as much ownership.”
Since having allowed four power play goals in a 5-4 defeat Nov. 16 at Toronto, the Predators’ penalty killers have been beaten just six times in 73 opportunities over the last 22 games. No opponent during that time has scored more than once with the man-advantage.
Nashville carries a four-game streak without a power play goal allowed into Wednesday’s contest at Anaheim (9 p.m., Fox Sports-Tennessee), and its 20 power play goals allowed (in 38 games) are the fewest in the Western Conference.
“We’re rolling along pretty good right now,” Jerred Smithson said. “It’s come a long way. We struggled a little bit at the first but we’re starting to feel pretty comfortable with each other. I think that’s the biggest thing. We’re starting to work as a five-man group, including the goaltender.”
The quartet most responsible for the success of the penalty kill are forwards Smithson and Nick Spaling and defensemen Shane O’Brien and Kevin Klein.
Whenever possible, they are the first four sent out when one of their teammates is sent to the penalty box.
Smithson, Spaling and Klein are the only three Predators who average better than three minutes of shorthanded ice time per game. O’Brien is not far behind at 2:51 per contest, an average that obviously is affected by the fact that he is second on the team with 37 penalty minutes.
“We’ve taken some pride in it, we work at it and we’re pretty confident right now,” O’Brien said. “[Smithson] and [Spaling] have done a great job up front and me and [Klein] seem to have some pretty good chemistry back there. We’re working as a group of four.
“You never want to take penalties, but when we do we’re excited to kill them off.”
As a team, Nashville currently ranks fourth overall with a success rate of 85.3, and in home games its 87.9 percentage is second only to that of Los Angeles, where the Predators play Thursday.
Those numbers are consistent with what traditionally has been one of the team’s strengths.
The Predators ranked in the NHL’s top 10 for penalty killing six times over eight seasons before they slumped in 2009-10 and finished an all-time worst 28th (77.1 percent). Five times in the previous 11 seasons they successfully killed more than 85 percent of opponents’ power plays.
Following the Toronto game, their success rate was just 77.8 percent.
“We had a lot of different people doing it,” Trotz said. “People think that anyone can kill penalties, and that is absolutely not true. It takes a certain mentality, it takes a certain work ethic, it takes a certain commitment, it takes ownership and you need that type of mentality.”
• Center Cal O’Reilly will need surgery to correct the broken leg he sustained Sunday against Columbus and will be out indefinitely.
“I think we’ll probably have a little more detail on that, but it looks like it might a little later this week,” Trotz said. “That will put him out an indefinite amount of time.”
O’Reilly is tied for third on the team with 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) and has been the center on the top offensive line for much of the season. However, he has not had a point in his last 11 contests.
• With Nashville’s next victory, Trotz will move into a tie for sixth-place in NHL history for wins by a coach with one team.
He currently has 430, one shy of Hall-of-Famer Dick Irvin, who won 431 with the Montreal Canadiens from 1940-55.
• The Predators have won one of two games at Anaheim in each of the last two seasons. They lost 5-4 in their first visit there this season (Nov. 7).
• Nashville’s ownership group announced that it struck a deal with local institutions to refinance its line of credit.