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Systems Analyst: Sebastian Aho and the Sorta Good, Actually Functional Power Play

Aho’s fifth goal in as many games could be sign of good things to come on the power play.

Putting out the fire on his blade, probably.
Jamie Kellner

It’s been an interesting season for Sebastian Aho.

The Carolina Hurricanes’ sophomore standout went 15 games without a goal, despite his best efforts, before erupting for five tallies in five contests. Much like the young forward, the Canes’ power play has been the epitome of hot and cold in 2017-18.

On Wednesday, both parties came together to create something that actually looked like a high-functioning NHL power play. A good man-advantage unit centers around movement and decision-making. Set plays help, but can also cause players to focus too much on fitting a mold instead of adapting to the best play at hand.

Aho’s goal starts with a few good decisions. He picks it up in the corner and immediately moves the puck low-to-high in the zone.

It’s a simple decision and play, yes, but an important one as well. Aho waits to draw a defender to him before making the pass to Justin Faulk, which buys time and space for his teammates.

Faulk also waits to draw another Ranger out, and fires a pass across to Teuvo Teravainen.

Another simple play on the surface. But look at what Faulk drawing the defender out does for the passing lane from Teravainen to Aho. Teravainen has time and space to now either walk the puck in and shoot, or force the defense and Henrik Lundqvist to adjust to a seam pass to Aho.

Teravainen makes the right call. Aho fires it home to put the Canes on the board.

Aho has plenty of room on this play. Some might even say it would be wise to carry the puck in and pick his spot from closer in on Lundqvist. But while Aho has space to roam, the Rangers defense has time to adjust and cover him.

This goal happens because of a quick and heavy shot from Aho; taking his time would have allowed Lundqvist to cover his angles and Brady Skjei to possibly get a stick in the way of the shot.

But my favorite part of this play is the movement. Teravainen actually starts the play on the near-side boards, rimming the puck around to Aho, who picks it up in the far corner.

Notice Jordan Staal and Elias Lindholm circling constantly and immediately going to the front of the net when the puck is high. They are available to pop into the corners of the blueliners feel pressured with the puck, but are focused on creating havoc in front of Lundqvist.

Their unpredictable skating also forces the Rangers to move as well. Earlier this season, the Hurricanes were static on the power play—the five players found their spots in the zone and just stood there. Now, they open up new passing and shooting lanes with their fluid movement and force opponents to focus on multiple players, not just the one with the puck.

The more often they move and make smart choices as they did on this goal, the more often they strike with the man-advantage.