For clarity, I will mention that this article is what I think the power play lines should be with the players I think will be on the NHL roster to start the season. To me, barring a trade or trades, it doesn't look like Anthony Mantha or Andreas Athanasiou will have a place on the roster on opening night. I'm not saying I like that, but I'm trying to make the best lineup with the players I think will be available. If you're curious, I will have a section at the end that discusses where those players could fit in if they are in fact in the NHL lineup.
What went wrong last year?
Last season, many players did not play up to their potential, and a large portion of that was on the power play. Here is just how bad the drop off was from the season before;
numbers from Corsica.org
Halfway through the season, Prashanth wrote an article about the Red Wings zone entries. You should read it if you haven't already. The short version is that one of the difficulties was that the Wings were not gaining the offensive zone quickly with support.
The Red Wings hired John Torchetti as an assistant coach this year, and it appears likely he will be involved in coaching the power play. After the Wings hired Torchetti, Joe Bouley from Hockey Wilderness gave us some info on our new assistant coach that included this quote;
He really seemed to resonate with the younger guys in the lineup and put guys into a better position to succeed than did Yeo. We don't really know what his system is, or what he'd install differently given a chance at a full year, without having to bail out water from the sinking ship. However, the power play was better, even if some veteran guys still held some deeply rooted bad habits (*cough* Suter *cough*). There was more traffic and more balance between the first and second units than there was under Yeo.
This gives me some confidence (a word that is rapidly evaporating recently) that Torchetti can make the required tweaks to help our power play shine again. Of course, the players need to step up as well.
Why we should use continue to use four forwards
Last year, the primary unit consisted of Niklas Kronwall, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Gustav Nyquist, and Justin Abdelkader. The secondary unit was made up of Brad Richards, Mike Green, Dylan Larkin, Tomas Tatar, and Teemu Pulkkinen or Riley Sheahan.
When you look at the players the team currently has, sticking with four forwards makes sense from a personnel standpoint, but it also makes sense statistically. The short version is that teams that utilize four forwards generate more shots and have a higher shooting percentage on those shots, leading to more PP goals. Sure, you are giving up something in regards to defending shorthanded chances, but stats leaguewide over the past 6 years show that the positives outweigh the negatives.
The blue dots are teams that did better with a 3 forward power play setup, while the red dots are teams that did better with 4 forwards over the past 6 seasons. You can clearly see that there are far more red dots than blue. In addition, the further the dots are away from the diagonal line (the breakeven point between the two setups), the better that system did.
If you are interested in reading more about the statistics backing up a four forward system, Matt Cane wrote two articles explaining it in much more detail than I went into here: The Benefits of the 4-Forward Powerplay and Why Teams Should Use Four Forwards on the Power Play.
What our power play units should look like
A power play unit needs players who can move the puck quickly and smartly, making confident decisions. You want at least one player who can play in front of the goalie, since many power play goals come off screens and deflections.
Mike Green - Frans Nielsen - Riley Sheahan - Gustav Nyquist - Tomas Tatar
There's no replacing Pavel Datsyuk, but as I showed in my in-depth look at Frans Nielsen, the Dane brings a skill set that will help reduce the loss of the Magic Man. He can carry the puck into the zone or make quick, smart passes to gain entry. The biggest question here is Sheahan over Abdelkader, but I think that Sheahan can fit that role better, plus I'd like two players who can take faceoffs on each unit. Nyquist and Tatar have had success together in the past, and having the safe Nielsen alongside him could help Mike Green.
Brendan Smith - Dylan Larkin - Thomas Vanek - Henrik Zetterberg - Justin Abdelkader
We know that Niklas Kronwall has proven himself capable of being a strong power play quarterback. I think Brendan Smith should get the chance to step up into that role and see what he can do. If he's not able to fill that spot, then Kronwall is still here to slot in. Limiting Kronwall's minutes will hopefully help him this season, and this would help with that. Like Unit 1, this unit has two players who can take faceoffs. If Vanek is capable of bouncing back from some disappointing seasons, this is where he would do it. Plus, he is the only player listed other than Green who has a right-handed shot. Even though Zetterberg has lost a step or two, he should be able to still contribute on the power play.
Like I said at the top of the article, I don't think Mantha or Athanasiou will start the season in Detroit. Like many of you, I hope I'm wrong.
If I am wrong, or if they join the team during the season, I think Mantha would replace either Sheahan or Abdelkader, although I have a hard time seeing the coaching staff taking Abdelkader off the power play. Athanasiou could play in either unit, replacing Tatar or Nyquist if one of them is not performing like he should be, or replacing Vanek in Unit 2 for the same reason. Putting AA in Unit 1 makes more sense because his speed will provide the same benefit as Larkin's in Unit 2.
While he will be injured to start the season, Teemu Pulkkinen adds a cannon of a shot, if he can control it, and he could see some power play time later in the season.
Last season's power play ranged from disappointing to embarrassing, and the team needs to rectify that if they are going to have any chance of success this season. While some of the lackluster stats can be blamed on coaching, a good amount of the disappointment of last year lies at the skates of the players. The players on the power play need to make quicker, more confident decisions. If they do that, the two units above could both have the type of success fans want to see.