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Weekly Red Wings Power Play Update - Week One

The Red Wings Power Play is off to a much better start than last season

Columbus Blue Jackets v Detroit Red Wings Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

A month ago, I wrote an article about how Detroit can improve its power play, which has been pretty terrible in recent seasons. This season, I plan to write a weekly article looking at how Detroit is doing on the man advantage, following up on some of the ideas from that article.

The plan is to track some metrics that can give us a better idea than simple power play percentage of how the team is performing. Additionally, I will be using video to show some key plays that illustrate what the team is doing well, or if it needs to improve.

What Will Be Tracked?

In the article referenced above, I looked at power play goals as a rate stat because not all power plays are equal. If Detroit takes a penalty, then draws one five seconds after that, they will technically have a power play opportunity, even though it is only five seconds. That’s clearly not comparable to a full two minute power play that starts with an offensive zone faceoff.

For the same reason, the article looked at unblocked shots as a rate stat. I am adding high danger chances for per 60 minutes because I want to see the quality of the shots the team is generating. All the stats will be per 60 minutes, since that’s what people are used to seeing for rate stats.

Measuring 5v4 leaves out both 5v3 and 4v3. Both of these strengths are much less common than 5v4, and there is a wide range in 5v3 time, for example, from the team with the most and the team with the least. For now, just 5v4 will be used.

Detroit’s Performance So Far

Now that the guidelines have been laid out, let’s get into how Detroit has done so far. The short version is: pretty well. It’s obviously only been three games, but the team seems to be off to a better start, and as will be shown in the video section, the team is doing better at aspects that torpedoed their power play in years past.

Here’s how the league looks in terms of 5v4 Goals per Minute through the games played on October 8th. Detroit is in the most efficient corner, which is not surprising because they are second in the league in 5v4 Goals per Minute. Of course, the caveat of the season only being a few games old applies throughout. It’ll be interesting to see if the team is still in this corner in next week’s update.

Note: (I update these viz every morning, so when you read this, it may be a little different. The numbers in this article are accurate through the games played on October 8th.)

Data via Natural Stat Trick; Viz by @pflynnhockey

More good news in the 5v4 Unblocked Shots / Minute section. Detroit is again in the most efficient area of the chart. They have one more unblocked shot than the Sharks do, with the latter having about 5 minutes more time on the man advantage.

Data via Natural Stat Trick; Viz by @pflynnhockey

While Detroit is doing good at scoring goals and generating unblocked shots, the quality of those shots is not as high as the team would like to see. Even so, the team is barely below NHL average at this young point in the season.

Data via Natural Stat Trick; Viz by @pflynnhockey

Let’s Go to the Videotape

In the recent past, Detroit struggled in two key areas: getting the puck in the zone cleanly and moving the puck quickly.

First off, I’m going to be referring to information referenced in the power play article mentioned above. If you need a refresher on how the 1-3-1 power play that Detroit runs works, you will find a lot of detail there.

These video clips are from the second game of the season against the L.A. Kings. We’re going to look at several parts of each of the two successful power plays. As the season progresses, these articles will look at both the positives and the negatives, but for this one, the focus will mostly be on what’s going well.

Mantha Goal

For the most part, the first unit for now set up with Michael Rasmussen as the net front player, with Tyler Bertuzzi in the slot, Filip Hronek at the point, and Gustav Nyquist and Dylan Larkin on the half boards.

The first clip here shows one of the things that Red Wings fans have hated for years, the drop pass entry. In this case, however, Detroit executes it properly, with Hronek dropping the puck to the trailing Larkin, freezing the Kings defenders and allowing the quick and shifty Detroit center opportunities to pass it into the zone. If you notice, he could have also passed to Nyquist or Bertuzzi to his left. This is how the drop pass should work.

The second clip shows the weakness of one of the strange thing about Detroit’s power play units right now. Each of them has two left handed players on the half boards. While it’s not mandatory, the advantage of having each of the half board players be on their off-wing is that it sets up one-timers. We’ve seen Tampa score on the power play one timer often enough to easily see how effective that is. In this clip, Larkin doesn’t have the time to get a clean shot off and ends up not getting a good chance on net.

With Larkin’s positioning, even if he was a right handed shot, this isn’t great position for a one timer, but he could have altered his path to get a one time shot from the top of the circles.

A little later in this power play, Detroit’s second unit comes out. This unit sets up with Anthony Mantha in front of the net, Thomas Vanek in the slot, Dennis Cholowski on the point, and Andreas Athanasiou and Frans Nielsen on the half boards. With Athanasiou a left shot and Vanek a right shot, this would seem to be a good set up for one-timers from both sides.

Instead, they have their only right shot power play forward playing in the slot, meaning that both power play units only have a one-time option from one side.

In this next clip, which contains the goal, Mantha slides out from in front of the net to give Athanasiou a passing option. Vanek slides into the space where Mantha was, Mantha moves along the boards, passes to Athanasiou, who returns the pass quickly.

Mantha turns, and even though the goal ends up being lucky because of a deflection, look at the options. Vanek is in a good position to tip a hard pass by the goaltender (which appears to be the play Mantha was looking to play), Nielsen is at the back door for a rebound tap in, and Cholowski makes a nice read, to give Mantha another option.

Mantha makes the right decision, since he would have had to avoid 3 Kings player to get it to Cholowski, but you like to see Cholowksi looking to move into open space.

Larkin Goal

Before the Larkin goal, Dennis Cholowski and the second unit have a great zone entry. Cholowski easily gets the puck to Nielsen, who carries in with possession. Notice that Vanek gave Cholowski an option as well.

Now, here’s the goal.

First, another good zone entry. Cholowski takes the puck from behind the net and carries before passing to Nyquist for a clean zone entry. Things got a little hairy when he passed the puck back to the point, but the team recovered the puck. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but last year the Wings had so many poor zone entries that it’s promising to see Hronek and Cholowski making the right decisions. One other thing is that the other players are in good position to give the other players more than one option.

Fifteen seconds later, Larkin takes a pass on his off wing, since Nyquist and he had switched sides during this play. He attempts to make a quick pass to the slot, where he had two players. When the puck is blocked, he takes a moment for the lane to open up, then utilizes the screen of not only Bertuzzi, but also Rasmussen, and he puts the puck in for the team’s second power play goal of the game.

So Far

It’s only been 3 games, but Detroit is showing the potential to have a much improved power play from last year. Not surprisingly, the addition of mobile, skilled defensemen on the point is making a major difference in both gaining the zone and moving the puck quickly. Next week, we’ll see if it continues.

Interactive versions of the viz used in this article can be found here. I will be updating them every morning.