Part three 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 two 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 zone entries and some possible changes to the powerplay units.
Zone entries are a big issue for this team.
When they get the puck in deep, they can’t retrieve it. When a player carries it in, they hold onto it too long and get it stolen from them.
In the neutral zone, they often move slowly. Watch some of the best powerplays in the league - Washington, Tampa, Pittsburgh, even New Jersey. They all move the puck up ice with pace.
Here’s Mike Green when he was on the Capitals.
This is so elite. Green carries up ice, sees his opening, uses his eyes to look off the defender, and then skates decisively into the zone. There was never a doubt in his mind as to what he wanted to do. It’s simple. The Bolts should have had to pay a fine for putting so little pressure on him.
These great teams and players don’t slowly carry it up, make a pass, drop it back, make another pass, get it in deep, not retrieve it, then go back to their own end to give it another go. They move fast, make quick plays, and take the open option, be it a carry-in or a dump-in.
Here are a couple of examples from the Hurricanes against the Stars.
The puck gets in deep, Aho gives a very half-hearted stick jab, and just like that the puck is right back out of the zone. The next time you watch the Hurricanes play, watch out for this and count how many times it happens.
This one is just 15 or so seconds before that poor puck retrieval.
Teravainen carries the puck up to his blue line and drops it to Aho. Aho is slow up ice, bobbles it, dekes inside, passes into Lindholm’s skates, Lindholm tries to get it back to Faulk, Faulk can’t handle it, and it’s back down ice.
If you look at the top of the ice, Staal is open and could make an easy entry had Aho not tried to deke to the inside.
They are just way too sloppy. This happens all the time with this powerplay, especially that first unit. And while Aho wasn’t a superstar in either of those clips, I’m not picking on him. It takes a lot of lackadaisicalness from many players in order to be 30th in the NHL on the powerplay.
If you’re going to get the puck in deep, that is great, but you have to retrieve it. You waste your powerplay if you're just dumping it in and not getting in their to get it back. If you’re carrying the puck in, that, too, is great, but do it with conviction and speed with your head up.
Drop passes are great tools. A puck carrier draws the attention of a defender, then drops it back which creates more room for an entry, but if your drop passes are slow and go 30 feet down the ice (I’m talking to you, Noah), all it does is waste time and likely end in a turnover at the blue line because the defenders would have had time to adjust.
These are easy fixes. It doesn’t take a retooling of your system to make a proper zone entry, which is why it’s so frustrating that nothing has changed.
In-Zone Setup Suggestions
So, your hockey team has found a way to set up their powerplay formation. What now?
It’s umbrella time, baby.
The first unit lines up like so...
Faulk is up top, Aho and Teravainen are at the tops of the circles, Lindholm and Staal are down low.
All of these players should be moving around and creating space, except for Jordan Staal. He needs to park himself right in front of the crease and not move unless he needs to get a puck from the corner.
Aho is a good trigger man. He can fire a wrist shot or one-time it easily on his off side and it’s a hugely valuable tool.
Teravainen is an interesting piece. He’s on the left side, so he’s not going to be an overly valuable piece with regards to shooting, but he can make passes and he has good vision. In theory, he should be able to set up Aho and Faulk for one-timers, but Faulk is right-handed, thus not in position for it.
My first suggestion comes here: swap Teravainen and Faulk. Aho is on his offside to tee up on one-timers, so why not put Faulk on his off side so he can do the same and be a bigger part of the play down low. Teravainen is now your quarterback, which makes sense given he’s a better puck handler and passer than Faulk is. These two players are not currently being used to their strengths.
This also doesn’t mean Teravainen can’t shoot the puck. He can move around, switch places with Aho and Faulk, and find soft spots closer where he can get shots on net. Hell, he could even take one-timers from the point off feeds from Faulk.
I also don’t know why Lindholm is constantly in the middle of the ice setting double screens with Staal. It would make more sense to put him on the half-wall and let him be a right-handed Nicklas Backstrom. He can move the puck and distribute. Run some of your looks through him. If the play gets close to the net, he can come in down low and make the incredible goal-line passes that he usually makes when he and his linemates are going strong.
Your powerplay structure should not be limiting your players, it should be using their strengths. Faulk is not a powerplay quarterback. He just isn’t. He’s an incredible shooter. Get him on his off side and let him move around to get open looks. That’s a remarkably dangerous weapon that isn’t being used properly right now. Make set plays for him off of the faceoff, similar to Subban, and run them. Set him up in the middle of the zone, and if it’s a clean faceoff win, he can skate way backward and Lindholm can tee him up. Faulk should not be taking all of his shots from the blue line. He should be in near the hash marks and the top of the circle.
This makes it a huge necessity for Jordan Staal to get to the front of the net. His presence there is huge. He should not leave that area. Too many times, I have seen him skating around the zone. If he needs to retrieve a puck, that is fine, but he should then move right back to the blue paint.
There’s more than enough talent on that unit, they just aren’t be used properly. Faulk isn’t a QB, Lindholm isn’t a net-front presence, and Staal isn’t a puck handler.
Here is the second unit:
Hanifin was taken out of the QB role and powerplay all together in favor of Slavin. Undo that.
Slavin is great with the puck and he is very responsible, but Hanifin’s creativity and skating ability is way too dynamic to keep off the ice. Let Hanifin be the QB, but don’t put restrictions on him.
Let him carry into the zone, chip the puck deep, and chase it down. His skating ability is a dangerous weapon. At the point, he has the vision and passing ability necessary to be a top of the umbrella player, and his fake shot from the point is deadly and it gets defenders to bite more often than not.
When I look at this group, I see one thing that is missing, and that thing is Victor Rask.
Rask has been a non-factor for ages, and he has been invisible on the powerplay as well, but if he can get back to a respectable level of hockey, his talents would be big on the man advantage. He is a big body who can move the puck, and with Brock McGinn emerging as a competent goal scorer with the ability to drive the net and stay there, Rask doesn’t have to stay in the paint. He can roam around and be creative, but that can’t and won’t happen until he gets his game together.
Jeff Skinner is the big weapon here. His ability to finish and put pucks in the net is game-changing, so put him on his off side, like Faulk, and let him shoot. Get him the puck in space and watch him work his magic, skate around, fire pucks at the net, and score more often than he has. He and Williams have been pretty good together, so you might as well just swap the two wings and get them both in a position where they can do more with the puck.
At this point, Derek Ryan is on this unit solely to take faceoffs. Until Rask gets it together or Lucas Wallmark is called up, it will stay that way, because Ryan’s ability to win faceoffs is a legitimate asset. Outside of his faceoffs, nothing suggests to me that he should be out there. I’d really like to see what Wallmark could do on a unit like this with so many dangerous players.
Another option is moving Lindholm off of the first unit, and having him center the second unit. Have him play the half-wall and distribute down low. Imagine cross-ice passes from Lindy to Skinner being one-timed home. McGinn can be the troublemaker down low and Williams can play in the high slot to provide double screens, roll out and play with the puck, or go in for board battles.
Then, throw Slavin up on the first unit and use two defensemen. I promise, it’s okay to use two defensemen on a powerplay unit, especially when they are as competent and smart with the puck as they are.
The powerplay needs to get a makeover, and it needs to happen soon.
This system can work, but right now, I’m not sure if Rod Brind’Amour and Bill Peters know how to utilize the talent they have. Until they can fix that problem, the man advantage will continue to lose them hockey games and leave them scratching their heads as to why.