Monday, January 27, 2014

Understanding the Texas Stars' League-Leading Power Play

Coaches Desjardins and Lidster (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars) 
If you watched read the postgame for Saturday's 4-1 loss, you know that Chris Mueller felt that the power play cost Texas the game. They were 0-for-5 on the night.

In the interview, Mueller also said this about the power play:
"They obviously scouted us with those seam passes and took those away so maybe we have to go to an overload certain games and react to how they kill."
OK, let's break that down. It's sort of a statement that jumps to the next level of understanding hockey for many casual fans. With the Texas power play being as good as it is, it's probably a good idea to better understand some of the terms that come with the territory.

Personnel choices

First of all, the power play has two different personnel choices. Traditionally, power plays go with three forwards and two defensemen, exactly what you see in normal even-strength situations. A number of power plays more recently have started using four forwards and a single defenseman.

For Texas right now, the lines are a little juggled thanks to the injuries they are suffering. Overall, the Stars employ one four forward set while the second unit has alternated between traditional and four forwards. The first unit is comprised of Colton Sceviour, Travis Morin, Curtis McKenzie, Chris Mueller and Maxime Fortunus. The second unit is generally some combination of players from Dowling's line and Jyrki Jokipakka. That unit will add a forward or defenseman, depending on personnel availability. Those have included Scott Glennie, Matej Stransky, Brendan Ranford, Derek Meech and Jamie Oleksiak.

Common setups

Mueller said that Texas might need to switch to an overload style in order to beat the scouting of the Griffins. Overload is one of the ways to setup your players once you've established yourself in the zone.

Mueller (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
Overload places three of your five skaters on one side of the ice, which matches them against only two penalty killers. One of the skaters is below the goal line, one at the hashes and the defenseman plays the blue line. On the other side of the ice, one defender is at the blue line while the remaining skaters is at the faceoff dot. This might sounds familiar from other seasons with the Texas Stars. Matt Fraser and Greg Rallo were common fixtures on that weak side. Texas has moved toward an overload out of necessity on some recent power plays, not having enough forwards to fit four on the second unit.

Umbrella is a fairly common way to align your players, especially in a four forward setup. The defenseman sets up in the center of the blue line. From there, he can shoot straight in or pass off to one of the two forwards at the top of the faceoff circles. The other two skaters line up near the crease and are able to shoot, rebound, tip and screen. If you head to the AHL highlights page and watch the replay of the Stars' first goal from last week's game against the Iowa Wild (starts at :26), you will see this setup happen. Max Fortunus is the high man on the blue line. Morin and Sceviour setup at the top of the circles, and Mueller and McKenzie are down low. You can see even from that highlight how easy it is to create havoc at the net with two players in that crease area.

Mueller commented that the Stars rely a lot on seam passes, which the Griffins took away. The 'seam' is the center lane of the ice. Here's a good example of a successful seam pass from the NHL playoffs last season.

Other common setups include the spread, slot set and 1-3-1. The spread puts two forwards near the goal line, aligned left to right with the defensemen at the blue line. The fifth forward is right in the center at the high slot. Overhead, the setup looks a lot like the five face of a dice.

The slot set is like the overload, but the weak side forward is in front of the net instead of at the weak side faecoff dot. The 1-3-1 puts the defenseman in the center of the blue line, similar to the umbrella. Two forwards line up on the faceoff dots, while the other two are down the middle in the low and high slot, respectively.

2 comments:

  1. Nice write up!

    It didn't help that the Stars had two breakaways they didn't score on and about half the shot attempts were wide of the net.

    I thing the Griffs have really good special teams though. Maybe in a 7 game series we can get a game or two with a well oiled powerplay but I would suspect that they would get a game or two giving us fits. We have to beat them during the 5 on 5's to win. Not make mistakes. Don't blow chances at breakaway goals. Less turn overs and better passing than we showed Saturday and half of the game Friday.

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    1. Absolutely true, Carl. The Griffs are top 5 in PP and PK in the league. Desjardins has been saying for a while that he knows the team needs to be better 5-on-5. Having a good power play is great but you cannot count on something like that in the playoffs.

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