Perhaps the 2011 Boston Bruins were the precursor to almost every successful team in the 2012 playoffs: they won the Stanley Cup despite a putrid power play. The Los Angeles Kings are one win away from the Stanley Cup finals, but even if the Phoenix Coyotes rally back from a 3-1 deficit, the West will be represented by a team with what Chris Stevenson calls “a pop-gun power play.”
Darryl Sutter ranks among the coaches who think that people might fixate a bit too much on percentages when it comes to gauging success.
“We’ve scored two goals and they scored one,” Sutter said. “You have to start fresh all the time with it. We’re getting looks, we’re getting zone time, you just have to get the screen or the tip for the rebound goal out of it.
“Again, it’s a positive thing … everybody looks at percentages instead of actual big goals. Teams that are still playing draw penalties.”
The story goes on to detail the video study and other forms of preparation that go into trying to improve the power play, but I wonder if that’s part of the problem. A good power play features great puck movement, often aggravating screening forwards and usually a point man with a flamethrower of a slap shot or at least a great knack for finding spots (see: Nicklas Lidstrom for the latter).
Hypothesizing about bad power plays
What stagnant power plays often lack are two key things: an element of surprise/danger and an interest in experimentation. If the other team knows exactly what you want to do every time out, it’s a lot easier to block shots and clog passing lanes.
Coaches like Sutter might be wise to open up that time for a bit more experimentation and improvisation. Maybe mix up units to reward pluggers for working hard with tough assignments and minutes or stop forcing point shots if they’re not there.
Sutter could be right about quantity over quality, however. Drawing a lot of power plays means taxing minutes for checking forwards and top defensemen. It ruins the flow of an opponent and could allow you to massage a lead.
If nothing else, he’d probably be a big fan of the “power-play plus/minus” stat we cooked up at PHT.