Part two of a three-part piece on the shortcomings of Carolina’s powerplay. **All stats accurate as of Wednesday, November 15.**
If you have yet to read part one of this three-part series, you can see it here.
Keep in mind, these are my opinions. I am not pretending to be a powerplay wizard and I am most certainly not qualified to run an NHL powerplay or be in the position of Rod Brind’Amour, Carolina’s head man when it comes to coaching the man advantage.
Also, note that I am watching and using statistics from 5-on-4 powerplays. 5-on-3 and 4-on-3 powerplays have been excluded from this as the sample sizes (1:28 of 5-on-3 and zero 4-on-3 opportunities) aren’t large enough to warrant them being discussed in this piece. When I refer to the powerplay, I am referring solely to 5-on-4 situations.
Today, we are looking at the system that the Hurricanes run on the powerplay and how other teams run it.
If you notice the Hurricanes passing the puck a lot around the perimeter during a powerplay, that is, in a sense, what they’re trying to do.
What Carolina runs is typically called the umbrella. A lot of teams use it, so a lot of teams are ready for it and can defend it if they’re organized, so if you run that powerplay, you need to be sure that you have the talent to do so and execute it properly.
At the top of the zone, you have your quarterback. Puck possession, vision, and passing are key here as a turnover can set up an odd-man rush or a breakaway for the penalty killers. If you notice the letters in the circle, those indicate preferable handedness. RL indicates that there’s no real better or worse handedness for that player to have, RH means it is better if that player is right-handed, usually in order to create one-timers, and LH means left-handed players are better used for the same purpose. Obviously, playing on your off side creates one-timing opportunities.
The two circles at the top of the offensive zone circles indicate triggermen, which is why it’s a big advantage if those players are on their off side. They can receive a pass and instantly fire it on the net. If not, they can find an open man down low or across the ice, or they can move it back to the quarterback.
Down low, you have your net-front presence. Have a big player down there to disrupt goalies and defenses is huge as it can draw attention away from the puck and make the puck difficult to track by a goalie when it is shot.
It’s very basic stuff, and if you‘ve watched much of any hockey, you already know what is going on.
Before we look at how Carolina utilizes this system, let’s look at how another team does it and does it effectively. I wanted to pick a team that not only runs a similar system but also has comparable talent.
The Nashville Predators came to mind. Up front, they don’t have an abundance of elite forwards like the Washington Capitals or Tampa Bay Lightning, but they do have Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Kevin Fiala, Ryan Johansen and Scott Hartnell. The Canes, on the other hand, have Jeff Skinner, Sebastian Aho, Elias Lindholm, Jordan Staal, Justin Williams and Teuvo Teravainen. That’s pretty comparable.
On the backend, Nashville, like Carolina, is loaded. P.K. Subban, Mattias Ekholm, and Roman Josi are all out there for the Preds’ ninth-ranked powerplay. The Hurricanes have Justin Faulk, Jaccob Slavin, and Noah Hanifin. Again, fairly comparable, especially with heavy right-shots in Subban and Faulk leading the way for either team.
Let’s start back on October 10 against the Philadelphia Flyers where the Predators scored three powerplay goals and won the game by one.
They won the opening faceoff, a shot got blocked, and the puck went back into their own end. For the next 50 seconds, they tried, unsuccessfully, to establish possession in the offensive zone.
After Philly cleared the puck out into the neutral zone, Nashville quickly reloaded.
All this is here is a defenseman coming up the middle, an indirect pass off of the player skating parallel to the blue line and the puck bouncing off of the forward and into the corner. It isn’t fancy or super noticeable, but it worked and the puck is now deep in deep.
Nashville wins the board battle and the puck is swept to the opposite corner for Craig Smith.
Smith has two options and three ways to do it. Move the puck back down low, get it back to the point via a pass through the middle of the ice, or bank it off the boards. Banking it is a tough here as he is a right-handed shot. Turning and backhanding is another option, but he’d get less power on it which could let Couturier come in an intercept it.
He ultimately whips around and fires it off of the boards back to the point.
Viktor Arvidsson now has the puck at the point after the pass from Smith. Now that Nashville has possession and a little bit of time, they can start to set up their powerplay formation.
Mattias Ekholm is the defenseman at the top of the zone and he’s now calling the shots.
Ekholm is setting up to take a shot, but it is a fake. All of the Philadelphia players (underlined) are looking at the puck carrier, but the puck is about to go to Kevin Fiala (circled in black). What happens away from the puck is huge here. Arvidsson and Smith (circled in blue) have fantastic movement away from the puck here momentarily, and there is a net-front presence (circled in red).
The puck is now sitting on Fiala’s stick along the left-side boards and he has time.
The low-to-high puck movement after the retrieval and the fake shot from Ekholm has Philly out of sorts to an extent. Courturier is moving in towards Fiala and there are three defenders down low, meaning it’s open season for Arvidsson and Smith.
Smith moves from the wing to the middle of the ice. Arvidsson makes the same read, but once he sees Smith ahead of him about to receive the pass from Fiala, he slides off behind him and Smith is able to get it, pull it back, and fire a laser of Brian Elliott’s blocker.
Like I mentioned earlier, lefties on the right side would’ve made this even easier. Instead of Smith having to pull it back and take a long wrist shot, a left-shot could have just quickly snapped it on the net. Imagine Teuvo Teravainen ripping a snap shot top shelf at the top of the slot on this play.
This is basic stuff from Nashville. They get the puck deep, retrieve it, move it high to low, set up their formation, draw players away from the weak side, and then take advantage of the mistakes that Philly made due to Nashville’s puck movement and play without the puck.
Another thing that Nashville does very, very well is getting pucks on net from the point. The Hurricanes do it, but it’s a lot of wrist shots and long slap shots and very rarely a one-time bomb. Here are two examples from Nashville over the past week:
This is a set play to end all set plays. It’s a clean faceoff win, then a quick pass from a righty on the strong side, and P.K. Subban just tees up and absolutely cranks this one home.
The Hurricanes desperately need to start utilizing Justin Faulk in a similar manner, and they actually did for a long time, but it’s become a far less effective part of their manpower advantage as of late.
This next one is nice too. After a faceoff win, Ekholm brings the puck to the top of the zone. Kyle Turris drops back into formation, gets the pass from Ekholm, draws the defenders in, and sets up Ekholm for a one-timer.
Watch how Ekholm disappears from the right side of the video. He’s backing up into the neutral zone, then as the defenders forget about him, he skates back up to build momentum on his shot and wires it.
What I like about Nashville the most is the usage of their defenders. On zone entries, they carry it in, chip it deep and retrieve it themselves. At the point, they move the puck around quickly and confidently and get set up for one-timers.
Their defenders have the freedom to be very aggressive and not have to stay in one spot the entire time.
Their forwards, on the other hand, are great at moving around and finding soft spots in the defense. The play away from the puck is a game changer.
It’s more than just moving around, though. It’s cycling and finding open ice. If you’re constantly moving, the defense will have a much tougher time trying to stop you. Not only do they then have to defend you, they also have to track you at all times and skate with you.
Tomorrow, we’ll look at how all of this pertains to the Hurricanes and see what they could be doing better on the powerplay.