It's early in the season, I know. There's only been one game played so far. But what I saw from the power play that Florida ran on Thursday was very discouraging. The team went 0-2 and only managed to get two shots on goal.
Thanks to the work done by Justin Bourne over the summer, we have several examples of what good and bad power plays look like. The Philadelphia Flyers have a first unit that is just absurdly dominant; the Arizona Coyotes use a bunch of rotations to make their power play lethal; the Chicago Blackhawks' power play should be doing so much more than it actually is; the Buffalo Sabres are pretty bad.
When looking at Philadelphia, we see that handedness is incredibly important. If we take a screenshot from Bourne's article about the Flyers:
every player is a realistic option, as each can score from their current location.
We see that, as Bourne points out to us, every player is an option to score. Scott Hartnell, Jakub Voracek and Kimmo Timonen are all available for one-timers, while Wayne Simmonds is open for a turn and crash in front of the net. That type of versatility can be lethal, especially since the penalty kill now has to work on not only shutting down the man with the puck (Claude Giroux), but also keeping him from finding any other possible options. The Panthers power play Thursday night looked like this:
(It's a screenshot, not a video, so it's not going to play. Sorry.)
Here, Jokinen is open in front of the net, and he is on the correct hand if he wanted to turn and try and stuff the puck on goal, which is good. What's not so good about him is that he isn't exactly a guy who's going to be a good net front presence, and it only gets worse from there. No one else presents a reasonable option for Huberdeau to pass to. Sure, Barkov is locked off, but even if he wasn't, he wouldn't be able to get a very powerful shot off. Kulikov is partially covered by Boyle, but he also is on the wrong hand to take a meaningful shot with, so he isn't that much of a threat. The player who is most open is Brian Campbell, and he too is on the wrong hand.
Here's the play in it's entirety (this time it's actually a video, and not just a screenshot):
Even though Huberdeau does end up passing the puck to Campbell, his hands are tied. Campbell has to receive the pass, turn, and then shoot. In the time that it takes him to do that, Ben Bishop has ample time to set up, and the shot is easily blocked. If you put a right-handed shot there, (Aaron Ekblad, Erik Gudbranson) the shot from that position is all of a sudden much more lethal.
The Panthers have the personnel to run something like the Flyers on each unit, just from different sides of the wall. The two units could look something like this:
|Position||In front of the net||On the wall||In the slot||Pointman 1||Pointman 2|
|Unit 1||Nick Bjugstad||Jonathan Huberdeau||Brad Boyes||Aaron Ekblad||Erik Gudbranson|
|Unit 2||Jimmy Hayes||Jussi Jokinen||Aleksander Barkov||Brian Campbell||Dmitry Kulikov|
The only issue of handedness here is Jokinen, who would be left-handed on the wrong side of the ice. The first unit, though, presents some good options to Huberdeau. If Bjugstad is wide open, he can be dished the puck and push it to the net. If Boyes is open in the slot, its a quick one-timer on goal with Bjugstad crashing the net. And if either Ekblad or Gudbranson is open, it's a one-timer from the point with Bjugstad screening the goalie. Those options sound much better than the power play we saw last night. On the second unit, Jokinen has the same options, but from the other side of the ice. The handedness of everyone except for him is flipped, meaning he can dish it to Hayes, who can try and stuff it, or Barkov/Campbell/Kulikov for a one-timer with Hayes in front of the net. OPTIONS...
Even if Gallant wants to go with something other than the handedness power play, he has to change it up. When the handedness isn't there for a setup, and nothing is used to confuse defenders, the power play goes stagnant. The Chicago Blackhawks are an example of this. I'm not saying their power play is bad; I'm just saying that with Kane, Toews, Sharp, Keith, Hossa, Bickell, Shaw (I think you get the point now) they should be doing so much better than they actually are. The Hawks aren't set up to take one-timers, and their power play features a lot of this:
Running around, passing it back and forth along the point. Sure, they get their shots off. But if the team was set up correctly, those shots could be much more dangerous.
The Arizona Coyotes show us what one thing that can be done when the handedness mold isn't easily met: rotations.
This is the best way to confuse a penalty kill unit. When Keith Yandle and Radim Vrbata switch, Troy Brouwer is sucked in to cover Yandle. That leaves Vrbata open for the shot. The constant movement has the penalty killers consistently guessing whether or not they should be covering the moving player, which leads to players out of position, which leads to scoring chances on the power play.
To conclude, I see no reason for the Panthers' power play to cost them points in the standings like it did last season. Not only do they have the personnel to fit a nice template for an effective unit, they also have new coaches that should be able to devise an intelligent system. It doesn't matter if the Cats score by using handedness to set up one-timers, or by movement/system work to confuse the defense. All that matters is that the pucks end up in the back of the net, and I'm afraid that if the current power play looks anything like it did Thursday night, we won't be seeing many of those pucks in the back of net this season.
(Note: GIFs and some photos taken from Justin Bourne's articles at theScore NHL. The links to the works are included in the article.)