Top five power plays in NHL finding success for varying reasons

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The Coaches Room is a regular feature throughout the 2021-22 NHL season by former NHL coaches and assistants who will turn their critical gaze to the game and explain it through the lens of a teacher.

In this week’s edition, Dave Barr, former assistant with the Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild, New Jersey Devils, Buffalo Sabres and San Jose Sharks, breaks down the top five power plays in the NHL and why they are successful.

For 12 years I coached special teams in the NHL, six running the power play and six running the penalty kill. 

One constant has always been that the power play gets what the penalty kill gives it. 

Another constant is power-play success is based on personnel. We see that because most teams appear to run similar-looking power plays with a 1-3-1 set up, but the personnel and how their coached makes the biggest difference in success.

With that in mind, I thought it would be interesting to analyze what is making the biggest difference for the top five power plays in the NHL this season entering play Monday. They were all different.

1. Edmonton Oilers (39.6 percent)

I’ve always believed net-front presence is the key to a successful power play, but the Oilers don’t rely on it for their success because of how dangerous they are on the flanks with forwards Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

The majority of Edmonton’s power-play chances and goals are off flank plays because a flank-to-flank seam pass from McDavid to Draisaitl is deadly. McDavid generates all the attention when he has the puck and Draisaitl has one of the best one-timers and releases in the NHL. 

Those two are also effective at making the play to settle the puck down after a controlled entry to prevent the penalty killers from pressuring.

Video: EDM@BUF: Draisaitl deposits McDavid’s backdoor set-up

2. Nashville Predators (28.9 percent)

The Predators were 23rd last season (17.6 percent), 25th in 2019-20 (17.3 percent) and last in 2018-19 (12.9 percent). Now, they’re second.

What has changed?

The power play now relies on interchangeability. Instead of everyone trying to get to their respective spots when they enter the zone, their forwards now set up at the spot nearest to where they are upon entry.

That is huge because it means they aren’t missing opportunities or openings that they otherwise might have missed if they were trying to get to set positions on the power play.

A penalty-kill coach scouting the Predators now has a harder time deciphering who will be where on the power play. Nashville is less predictable to opponents because of its interchangeability. 

In one instance, the Predators might have a left-shot at the net-front position, but other times it could have a right-shot there. It makes it harder to game plan against.

They’re also winning an NHL-best 64.2 percent of their face-offs on the power play. That’s up from 51.0 percent last season and 55.2 percent in 2019-20. 

A friend who works in analytics told me an improvement of 10 percent on face-offs will help create on average one more scoring chance per power play. If you have three or four power plays per game, that means you’re getting another three to four scoring chances per game. The Predators are slightly above that.

Defenseman Roman Josi is shooting more from the middle-top of the zone. In the past, Ryan Ellis was their best shooting threat, but it was more from the left top. The defenseman was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers on July 17.

A long shot from the middle has a better chance of going in or creating a scoring chance because a team is almost guaranteed to have a net-front presence, and a rebound, if there is one, is likely to come out into the middle slot. A shot from the flank could lead to a rebound that bounces out toward the boards, and the net-front presence might cheat in that direction too.

Video: ARI@NSH: Josi rockets Tolvanen one-timer home for PPG

3. St. Louis Blues (28 percent)

The Blues have an incredible power play unit filled with veteran players. If you look at power-plays units that are successful, they’re mostly filled with veteran players.

Defenseman Justin Faulk is a great power-play quarterback with a big shot. Forward David Perron on the left flank and forward Vladimir Tarasenko on the right make a dangerous flank-to-flank combo. Tarasenko has the big shot off the right side and Perron is a super skilled player.

Forward Ryan O’Reilly is in the bumper position and is the glue that keeps it together. Forward Brandon Saad is in front of the net and is always willing to get into the goalie’s face.

The Blues have five legitimate pieces who all bring something to the table and who have that ability to make the one play that slows things down and make the one play that creates a scoring chance.

Video: EDM@STL: Kyrou buries Buchnevich’s slick dish for PPG

4. Anaheim Ducks (26.8 percent)

The assistant coach on the power play deserves kudos when it’s warranted, and in the Ducks case it’s warranted for Geoff Ward. The Ducks have not adjusted their power-play personnel too much, but they’re getting more out of it than they did last season, when they were last at 8.9 percent.

A big reason is Ryan Getzlaf, their 36-year-old captain who is shooting the puck more than he did last season. 

Getzlaf had 13 shots on the power play in 18 games entering Monday; he had 12 shots on the power play in 48 games last season.

He’s a brilliant passer, but now that he’s shooting much more teams have to respect that. They can’t just play against the seam pass coming off Getzlaf’s stick, now they have to respect the fact he’s throwing pucks to the net. 

The other difference is the Ducks, like the Predators, are winning more face-offs on the power play; 60.4 percent this season up from 54.3 percent last season.

Video: VAN@ANA: Zegras finds rebound and sends it in for PPG

5. Dallas Stars (26.7 percent)

The power-play goals that the Stars create are scored within five to six feet from the net, right around the blue paint, because they are getting pucks into that dirty area.

They rely on outnumbering the penalty killers, getting pucks to that spot with a net-front presence and having flanks and the bumper, the guy in the middle of the ice, coming down.

The Stars were fifth on the power play last season at 26.7 percent when they did not have forward forward Tyler Seguin. He’s back, but the uptick in percentage could be attributed to the addition of defenseman Ryan Suter, who has scored two power-play goals and has three assists on it.

Suter is adept at getting pucks to the net from the middle-top of the zone. Like I mentioned with the Predators and Josi, shots from the middle-top are more likely to create goals or scoring chances than shots from the flank.

The other notable aspect is the Stars balance their two units well. Seguin leads them in power-play time on ice per game at 2:25 and forward Roope Hintz is 10th at 2:02. It’s an advantage for the coaching staff to feel comfortable with both units rather than always starting the same one.

Video: DAL@VAN: Suter’s shot deflects into twine for PPG

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