Welcome back to Week Ten 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 December 10th. Even though it will post on December 11th, it’s written the day before, so the Washington game will be included in next week’s edition.
First, here’s a quick update on the team metrics that this series is focusing on:
Goals / 60: 19th. Last week: 16th
Unblocked Shots / 60: 23rd. Last week: 17th
High Danger Chances For / 60: 24th. Last week: 20th.
% HDCF of Unblocked Shots: 23rd. Last week: 20th.
Last week was not a particularly good week for Detroit on the power play. They didn’t score a power play goal, and they gave up a shorthanded goal to Tampa Bay. The team did not get many opportunities on the power play, which fits the recurring theme we’ve been seeing.
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 four games (1st is league best, 31st is league worst):
Goals Against / 60: 4th
Unblocked Shots Against / 60: 26th
High Danger Chances Against / 60: 8th
% HDCA of Unblocked Shots: 3rd
Goals Against / 60: 13th
Unblocked Shots Against / 60: 27th
High Danger Chances Against / 60: 26th
% HDCA of Unblocked Shots: 22nd
Goals Against / 60: 14th
Unblocked Shots Against / 60: 22nd
High Danger Chances Against / 60: 29th
% HDCA of Unblocked Shots: 26th
Goals Against / 60: 30th
Unblocked Shots Against / 60: 23rd
High Danger Chances Against / 60: 14th
% HDCA of Unblocked Shots: 8th
Tampa Bay is always a hard penalty kill to play against. Their high-pressure PK typically gives Detroit fits, and this game was no different. We’ll take a look at that in the video section.
The game against Los Angeles was a very good opportunity for Detroit to score a power play goal or two, but they only had one opportunity. Detroit has been at or near the bottom in power play opportunities all season, and there’s nothing so far that indicates that’s going to change.
Because the team didn’t have many power play opportunities or shots, I’m going to skip the shot locations section for this week and say....
Let’s Go to the Videotape!
This week’s video clips are going to focus on zone entries. Detroit did very well earlier in the season, but their zone entries have been disappointing lately. I looked for common problems and how they can be fixed.
I’m going to break this into several different categories. The first one is the drop pass.
This breakout typically works better against a 1-3 forecheck, in which you have F1 attempting to funnel the puck carrier towards the boards and limit his passing options. The drop pass works well when the puck carrier gets far enough up the ice that the player receiving the drop pass can take advantage of the change in the point of attack before the defense can react.
The first clip is an example of a poorly executed drop pass. Green telegraphs the pass, and Larkin has to start from too far back to be able to beat an aggressive Tampa team. Also, the way the Detroit players are spread out at the blue line makes Larkin have to stickhandle through a very narrow gap.
The next clip is an example of a much better drop pass from Athanasiou to Dennis Cholowski. I’d typically like to see Athanasiou or Larkin be the recipient of the drop pass because of their speed and maneuverability. Here, I’m fine with Cholowski because I’ve come to trust him to typically make the right pass.
Here he does that, but it’s to Nielsen cutting to the center. I noticed Detroit looking for this pass a few times this past week, and it doesn’t typically result in a good zone entry. It’s something to keep an eye on in upcoming weeks, but it doesn’t seem to have a good success rate.
One of the things I’ve noticed Detroit doing in the past few weeks has been trying variations of their standard power play breakouts. I was hoping to get a good clip of the “double drop pass” they’ve used a bit in the past, but they didn’t do it this past week. My eye test says that the double drop pass has had a high success rate, but I don’t currently have any data with which to back that up.
We did see some variations of the drop pass, which worked in these instances.
In this first example, Tyler Bertuzzi receives the pass from Cholowski going up the near boards. He is almost to center ice when he does a bank drop pass to Gustav Nyquist.
In this first screenshot, you can see the Islanders F1 (first forechecker), and F2 is not in the picture. This indicates a more conservative 1-3 forecheck. Again, this type of forecheck is a good target for the drop pass entry.
The Islanders forechecker is angling Cholowski towards Bertuzzi, but the bank drop pass from Bertuzzi seems to catch the Islanders PK off-guard and they end up in poor position to prevent the pass from Nyquist into Bertuzzi, as seen in this second screenshot:
Nyquist passes to Bertuzzi, but he also had a play to Abdelkader. In many of the Wings’ failed power play zone entries, the poor decision was the pass at the blue line. Here, Nyquist does a great job. Here’s the full play:
I pointed out a poor drop pass from Green earlier, so I wanted to include a clip of him doing it well. Athanasiou does a good job as well to find the space at the blue line to enter with possession.
Winding up the look at the drop pass, here’s a cool variation. When the video starts, as you can see in the screenshot, Nyquist is not in the position from which you would normally see a drop pass:
Nyquist uses his backhand to get the pass back to Larkin. Another wrinkle to this play is that Cholowski does something similar to what soccer fans know as a “dummy” and lets the puck go by him to Larkin. This is happening fast, of course, but the defense has to momentarily react to Cholowski picking up the puck, giving Larkin even more of a chance to find the right passing target.
Variations on the Dump In
One entry type that we saw more than usual against Tampa was the dump in. The main reason for this is that Detroit only had 2 power play opportunities and one of them featured a shorthanded goal that tied the game. (I’m sorry to bring up bad memories).
The dump-in is safer than the other types of power play zone entries, and it’s no surprise that Detroit used that after the shorthanded goal.
This first one features Dylan Larkin receiving a drop pass from Niklas Kronwall. Larkin gains the red line and skies it into the zone, then chases it down. It works because of Larkin’s hustle. With the speed of Larkin and Athanasiou, this would be something worth trying every now and then.
Another dump in, with Abdelkader as the puck retriever, which is a very weird sentence to type. In his defense, however, he uses his body well to win the puck battle and maintain possession.
The team has to be careful about over-relying on the dump in. It’s a good change of pace, but not something that should be a staple. Against Toronto, Detroit tried it way too often, and Toronto adapted to shut it down. Here’s an example in which the normally reliable Cholowski dumps it in to nobody. But, he didn’t really have anyone to dump it in to.
Other Zone Entries
While it may seem like Detroit does the drop pass all the time, that’s not the case. Yes, they do it more often than not, but there are times the defenseman takes the puck from behind his net and skates out with no drop pass to be seen.
From watching the last few games, Detroit typically does better at maintaining possession when the first pass from the defenseman is quickly followed by a second pass. In this next clip, Dennis Cholowski waits for the Tampa player to move before sliding a pass to Nielsen at the blue line. Nielsen immediately passes to Rasmussen.
I want to use two screenshots to highlight the timing by Cholowski. We’ve seen it before, but he does so many little things that are hard to notice without going back and watching . a play multiple times.
When we stop the play here, we see #71 Anthony Cirelli’s stick in the passing lane to Cholowski’s left. The other Tampa forward has closed off the passing lane to the right.
When Cirelli moves his stick to his left to try to intercept the puck, Cholowski slides the pass to Nielsen through the lane that just opened up a fraction of a second ago.
The last two clips for this article are examples where the team tried something a little different than usual. In both cases, it was a good idea, but it didn’t quite work.
In both these clips, instead of passing to a player right at the blue line, they passed earlier and the player receiving that pass attempted a quick pass to a teammate entering the zone.
To wrap this up, Detroit needs more power play opportunities, and they need to more consistently gain the zone on the power play. The team should continue to try variations of their standard zone entries, but they need to be careful of over-reliance on one option. Like I said earlier, against Toronto, the team over utilized dump-ins, and Toronto adapted pretty quickly.
To paraphrase a former president, there is nothing wrong with the Red Wings power play that can’t be cured by what is right with the Red Wings power play.
Detroit can certainly improve in both areas. But they can clearly do better; they’ve shown it. They just need to be more consistent.