Welcome back to Week Eight of the Detroit Power Play Update series. Each week, I’ll take a look back at the previous week’s power play performance. At the bottom, you will find links to the previous editions.
5v4 Stats Update
This article is accurate through the games of November 25th. For this article, the focus will be on the difference between the first 15 games and the next 8, in which Detroit has scored 1 power play goal (on a 5-on-3). It took longer than usual to put together, so the Columbus game on 11/26 will be included in next week’s article.
First, here’s a quick update on the team metrics that this series is focusing on:
Goals / 60: 17th. Last week: 11th
Unblocked Shots / 60: 27th. Last week: 20th
High Danger Chances For / 60: 22nd. Last week: 14th.
% HDCF of Unblocked Shots: 19th. Last week: 16th.
Detroit’s numbers at 5v4 continue on their downward spiral. This article will try to figure out where the blame lies.
To put in context the penalty killers Detroit was up against last week, here are the 4v5 rankings for the teams Detroit played in the last three games (1st is league best, 31st is league worst):
Goals Against / 60: 18th
Unblocked Shots Against / 60: 28th
High Danger Chances Against / 60: 17th
% HDCA of Unblocked Shots: 6th
Goals Against / 60: 25th
Unblocked Shots Against / 60: 3rd
High Danger Chances Against / 60: 19th
% HDCA of Unblocked Shots: 29th
Goals Against / 60: 12th
Unblocked Shots Against / 60: 21st
High Danger Chances Against / 60: 7th
% HDCA of Unblocked Shots: 5th
So, the last 8 games have seen a sharp decline in Detroit’s power play production, in every metric.
You don’t have to be an expert to see that the two groups of numbers below are starkly different.
So what’s going on?
Face-offs / Shot Locations
Over the last 8 games, Detroit’s face-off win percentage at 5v4 has dropped from 65% to 39%. A face-off win does not necessarily lead to zone time or a shot on goal, and a face-off loss does not necessarily lead to a clear, but on the power play, a drop of 16% over an 8 game stretch is going to hurt a team. Improving face-off win% is an obvious starting point to getting back to where the team was previously.
To keep from repeatedly writing this, we are talking about an eight game stretch. It’s long enough to be a legitimate concern, but it’s not like all is lost.
Throughout this series, we have been looking at shot locations. We’ve seen them broken down by player, by unit, by handedness, etc. For today, we don’t really have to do any of that to see a major problem.
After the next two images, I’ll go into what the sections mean, but even without that, it’s pretty clear what is different.
For this article, the danger zone boundaries from the now defunct site War-On-Ice was used. This only takes into account shot locations. Other factors will affect the danger of a shot. For example a rebound will add a level of danger because a goalie has to react quickly. The short version is that this is an estimate. War-On-Ice calculated that an average shot from the different zones had the following probability of being a goal.
HD - 24/193 (12.4%)
MD - 10/310 (3.23%)
LD - 10/510 (1.96%)
Another thing to keep in mind is that the zones used are for 5v5. That’s obviously a major difference, and something to keep in mind. I could not find anything similar for 5v4, so I plan on making my own in the future.
I talked to Prashanth Iyer about it, and he made a heat map of all 5v4 goal locations from the last 8 seasons. As you can see, the danger zones extend further out than at 5v5, which makes sense, and the shape also makes sense with many teams using a 1-3-1 formation.
Adding a version of this plot overlaid on the shot data shows us that while Detroit has certainly not been getting chances from in close during this stretch, they’ve still had a good amount of shots from places where 5v4 goals are typically scored from:
Note: I changed the colors from the first one, and I didn’t have the time to change the earlier shot locations charts. I’m working on making it easier to see the differences between the shot types, so look for more of that in future articles.
Using data from Natural Stat Trick, we can get an idea of the typical shooting percentage for each danger level of shot. Based on the last three full seasons, the shooting percentages for each type of shot are:
The chart of shot locations from the first 15 games of the season shows Detroit’s shooting percentage in these danger zones. So you don’t have to scroll up, I’ll repeat it here:
HD: 25% / MD: 23.5% / LD: 3%.
Detroit was above average in HD, way above average in MD, and average in LD. So, in addition to getting many more chances from better areas of the ice through the first 15 games, Detroit was also converting many more of those than average for medium-danger shots.
Let’s Go to the Videotape
It would be boring to show clips a face-off loss followed by a clear. Suffice it to say that happened more than it should.
As many of you know from watching the games, there could be dozens of clips that show what’s been going wrong, but the following are representative of the problems that are happening. The second half will show that even despite the team’s poor performance over this eight game stretch, it’s not been all bad, and there’s reason to think that the team can get back to where they were earlier in the season in the near future.
Thomas Vanek being out for a stretch of games hurt the power play, as his creativity has been responsible for several of the team’s power play goals this season. He typically isn’t involved in zone entries, other than to receive the puck going into the zone. This clip shows why.
On the first play, he just makes a bad pass. On the second, his cutting to the side before making the pass leads to too many Detroit players in too small of a space to be able to gain the zone effectively.
While Mike Green turning before dropping the puck back on the drop pass entry telegraphs what’s about to happen, Larkin is still able to cross the blue line with possession. Mantha, however, tries to force a pass back to Larkin that isn’t there because of the Washington pressure. A better play would have been to pass it around the boards, where Detroit had both Bertuzzi and Nyquist in a position to reach the puck first.
One of the common denominators in the bad decisions on the power play was trying to force something that isn’t there. When the PP is working well, most of the passes are simple, but quick.
Lack of Support
Another sign the Red Wings power play is going well is that players are supporting each other. I lost track of how many times the team had a shot that was saved and the rebound quickly cleared down the ice. Here is a representative example.
Athanasiou loses the face-off, and Detroit hustles to try to keep the puck in the zone, which is obviously good. Nielsen ends up in a 1 on 2 puck battle, and while Rasmussen is in a good position if Nielsen can win the battle, it’s a lot to ask. Athanasiou is also in good position if Nielsen wins the puck, but since #51 is out numbered, one of the two helping him out would have been a better idea.
The Vanek clip above could easily fit in this category, and there were an awful lot of passes from many Red Wings that make you scratch your head.
Dylan Larkin has continued to play very well in all situations, but here he makes a play that is representative of the team not making the simple, quick play to keep the puck moving.
He makes a good pass to Mantha, and then makes another good play to find the opening where he can receive a return pass. But in the screenshot below, you can see that he has no play to his left. With the positioning of the defenders, the better play would be to quickly pass around the boards and try to get set up.
It’s of course easier to see this in a video replay than full speed action on the ice, but with Mantha and the Washington defender to his left, and the puck already near the corner, it’s highly unlikely that Larkin can make a play by going to his left.
Here we see Detroit use a variation on their drop pass entry that is effective. Green drops to Nyquist, who passes to Larkin. Typically Larkin would either carry in or pass to the left boards. Instead, he passes back to Nyquist, who enters the zone. He pulls up and passes back to Green, who gets it over to Mantha. #39 certainly has a propensity to pass up shots that he should take, but here he does the reverse. The combination of the angle, location, and the positioning of his teammates and opponents make this a low percentage shot.
Instead, he should pull back and either reset back to Green or look for a pass to set up their power play structure.
Sometimes you’re just unlucky. In this next clip, Detroit doesn’t make it look easy, but they do move the puck quickly and they set up Athanasiou for a one-timer. Even if this doesn’t go in, a rebound is a very real possibility. Detroit has two players in a good position to pounce on a rebound, but the puck is deflected by the defender, leaving them on the wrong side of the goalie and unable to prevent the clear.
Likely the most frustrating moment for Anthony Mantha in recent memory is the next clip. Detroit gets set up and Nyquist moves lower to set up a pass into the high danger area. Somehow, the puck goes between Mantha’s stick and his feet, otherwise this is a slam dunk goal.
Mantha is again in a great position, and Andreas Athanasiou makes a fantastic move to get past his defender and into the zone. Great entry, good idea, the pass is just a bit off.
It’s Not All Bad
Detroit scored two goals shortly after a power play expired, once against Washington and once against Buffalo. Each of these was an example of Detroit doing what worked earlier in the year.
As loyal readers of this series know, Thomas Vanek setting up behind the net has been very effective for the team this season. In the game against Buffalo, Detroit had a sequence where they had not one, but TWO players below the goal line. While the play didn’t work this time, it’s a setup I think the team should go back to, at least from time to time.
After you watch this focusing on Detroit, go back and watch it a few more times, focusing on different Sabres players. They are not used to defending from passes coming from these angles, and it shows.
An obvious potential downside is that if the play breaks the other way, you have two players below the offensive goal line. In this case, Vanek and Mantha aren’t likely to get back in time to help out even if they were ten feet closer to their own goal. The question with this setup is “Does the additional scoring potential outweigh the increased shorthanded chance potential?” I believe it would, but I currently have no evidence for that. It’s something I plan on looking into in the future, as I believe Ryan Stimson has done work with this idea.
This next goal has everything the Wings have to keep doing to get back to their previous power play performance. They get a little lucky on the zone entry, but Vanek hustles to maintain possession and get the puck to Green. Green passes back to Vanek, who skates behind the net, while waiting for the right time to pass to Athanasiou, who is coming at the back door for the goal.
On the replay, you can see how Vanek waits for Holtby to be too far to the left to get back over in time. It’s similar to a few weeks ago when Cholowski waited for the goalie to move his head to the other side of a screening Rasmussen before firing a wrister by him.
The last play is a three clip sequence. It’s the goal against Buffalo just after the penalty expired. The goal is a result of all five players doing what Detroit was doing earlier in the season. The puck moves quickly, players give each other passing options, and they don’t try to do too much. Add in a little creativity, and it’s a recipe for a goal.
The play starts with a drop pass entry that is executed the way it needs to be. Green drops to Larkin. Bertuzzi uses Green’s “moving pick” to give Larkin a good passing option. Larkin continues into the zone to return the favor for Bertuzzi. Unlike the other play earlier, Larkin reads the play well and curls back, passing to Green who passes to Mantha. At the end of this clip, you can see that Detroit has now set up their structure, although Mantha and Nyquist are switched from their typical spots.
After Mantha passes to Nyquist, the two switch spots. Nyquist curls back towards the net, then makes a backhand pass back to Green at the blue line. Green moves it quickly to Larkin for a one-timer. Green stops the clear at the blue line and Detroit goes right back to work.
Larkin passes through the slot to Mantha, who can’t get a stick on the shot. Nyquist reacts quickly to keep the puck in the zone and get to it before the closest defender. Mantha takes a page from Vanek’s playbook and slides behind the net. Nyquist to Mantha, back to Nyquist, to Green. Green shoots, Bertuzzi gets a stick on it, and Mantha is there to swat in the rebound.
Tuesday night, Detroit scored a power play goal. Maybe the downturn is over and next week’s article will talk about Detroit rising back up the PP rankings. Having Vanek back will definitely help, although the team should only get him the puck once the team has already gained the zone.
I’d love to see Detroit add the “two players below the goal line” setup to its repertoire. The team should mostly stay with what was working earlier in the year, but mixing up their setups will keep the other team on its toes.
The problem over this stretch was not that other teams were adapting to Detroit. It was poor execution, whether it be bad passes, trying to do too much, or not moving to positions to support their teammates.
Detroit should not make drastic changes based on this stretch of games, but re-focus on making the smart play, not trying to do too much, and moving the puck quickly. Doing that will lead to results more like the first 15 games of the season.