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Weekly Red Wings Power Play Update - Week 13

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Why can’t the second unit get a clean zone entry?

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NHL: Detroit Red Wings at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to Week Thirteen 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. (I skipped a week last week, so don’t go searching for Week 12.)

5v4 Stats Update

This article is accurate through the games of December 31st.

First, here’s a quick update on the team metrics that this series is focusing on:

Goals / 60: 20th. Last week: 21st
Unblocked Shots / 60: 26th. Last week: 22nd
High Danger Chances For / 60: 26th. Last week: 23rd
% HDCF of Unblocked Shots: 22nd. Last week: 22nd

So, we saw a slight improvement in goals per 60, but the team is still scoring less than half the league. When you add in the fact that Detroit has the fewest 5v4 minutes in the NHL, that tells you that the team’s production has fallen off since the beginning of the year, when the power play was doing much better.

Typically I do a breakdown of the penalty kill version of the above four metrics for each of the teams Detroit played in the past week. Since there are double the teams, I’m just going to list their ranks of 5v4 Goals Against per 60. (lower number means fewer goals against per 60)

Philadelphia: 30th
Carolina: 11th
Florida: 12th
Toronto: 13th
Pittsburgh: 3rd
Dallas: 4th
Florida: 12th

With the exception of Philadelphia, all of the other teams are in the top half of the league in keeping out goals at 5v4. Of course, as we all know, the problem with the Philadelphia game is that the Flyers were giving Carter Hart his first NHL start, so we definitely weren’t scoring in that one.

Shot Locations

I’m going to need to figure out what to change this section title to because as the series has grown, this has turned into a place where I put more than just shot locations.

Over the winter break, I had planned on doing more tracking, but I didn’t get as much done as I wanted. I had hoped to track the pass attempts for all the games so far. I ended up getting through the first six games, but as I went, I got faster at doing it, so I hope to catch up in the next few weeks so I can have a lot more data to work with.

Just to give you an idea of what I’m working on, here are a few plots from the first six games. Obviously, keep in mind that this is a small sample (173 pass attempts so far).

Here are all the passes in the first six games that led to either an unblocked shot on goal, a missed shot, or a goal. As I get more data, I can look more closely to see which players are making successful passes (passes not resulting in a turnover) to the high danger areas on the power play, among other aspects.

The “Event” refers to what happened next. So for an event marked “goal,” The pass followed the arrow and the receiving player scored a goal. (Events not shown on this next plot are passes, blocked shots, and turnovers, broken down into turnovers before the pass was received and after the pass was received)

Data manually tracked by Peter Flynn

One thing that I noticed even with this very small sample size is that out of the 6 goals, three of them are from “royal road” passes, or passes that go from one side of an imaginary line drawn straight out from the middle of the goal line to the other. I like to refer to these as “cross-crease” because some people aren’t familiar with the “royal road” terminology.

In addition to these cross-crease passes, passes that start from behind the goal line are more effective. One of the things I’ve written about extensively in this series is how effective a player like Thomas Vanek has been when he sets up below the goal line.

Another potential use of this data would be to illustrate sequences of passes. For example, this is a simple one illustrating the Red Wings goal against the Islanders from December 15th.

Data manually tracked by Peter Flynn

This can also show us patterns for individual players. For example, looking at Dennis Cholowski’s passes for the first 6 games, it’s easy to see that he made the vast majority of his passes from one side of the ice, and mostly from one specific spot.

Data manually tracked by Peter Flynn

Let’s Go to the Videotape

For this edition, I’m just going to focus on one specific thing. In the past, I had suggested trying a unit that featured both Filip Hronek and Niklas Kronwall, with the express caveat that Hronek run the breakouts. Since Kronwall can still pass well, I thought maybe he could play the half boards role and mainly focus on moving the puck. Also, this was entirely due to injuries. With a full, healthy roster I would never want to see this.

Well, I got to see what it would look like. Or, I should say that I would get to see more if that group could ever get into the zone. For some reason over the past few games, the second unit has looked like they’ve never run a breakout before.

The first four clips are from the same power play. It’s shortly after the shorthanded goal Florida scored in the most recent game, and the second unit is on for the next face-off.

Kronwall takes the puck behind the net under pressure and passes to Athanasiou, who wisely passes back to Kronwall. AA was facing the boards with pressure, and passing back is the safe option here. At this point, Kronwall goes behind the net to reset and Bertuzzi, Athanasiou, and Hronek swing wide to give him options. At this point, the setup is fine. You can see that Athanasiou takes a wider route, so he can be more of a trailer to utilize his speed.

At this point, Kronwall passes to Athanasiou at the top of your screen. At first glance, it looks like Hronek was the better passing option, but a second later, you can see that Ekblad was in front of Hronek. I still think Hronek is the better passing option.

This screenshot is about where Hronek would have received the pass, and Rasmussen continuing to cross to the bottom of your screen would have opened up space for Bertuzzi to jump into. From there, he could have either carried into the zone or passed to Athanasiou on his left.

In a previous edition, I talked about how Kronwall nearly always passes to his left on the breakout. Here, that tendency likely caused Detroit a better chance to get a clean zone entry. Kronwall’s pass to Athanasiou is a little off, and AA can’t handle it cleanly leading to the puck being cleared back to Kronwall.

Kronwall passes to Hronek, who makes a good pass to Rasmussen. At this point, Rasmussen doesn’t really have options for the next play, and the puck is turned over.

The next clip picks up when Detroit recovers the pass. Athanasiou makes the smart play to not try to do it all himself. I’ve noticed that sometimes Larkin still makes that mistake. It comes from a good intention. He is frustrated that things are not working, and he wants to make an impact. The problem is that doing this leads to a turnover more often than not.

Hronek takes the puck behind his net and heads up ice. Bertuzzi and Kronwall swing to the left like we saw in Clip 1. The problem is that Kronwall is doing what Athanasiou typically does, so when Athanasiou comes back to swing left, three players are all together.

You can see the result in the video above, but here’s a closer look at what happened.

In clip one, we saw a typical breakout beginning with players swinging to either both sides of the puck carrier behind the net. If they did that on this play, it would have looked like this.

The squiggly line is Hronek carrying the puck. On a typical breakout like this, the forward furthest up the ice will typically move from one side of the ice to the other to open up space for the other forwards now coming up ice. Rasmussen is out of frame, but based on where he appears later, I’m going to guess that he is going from the top of the screen to the bottom.

Here’s what actually happened.

I started this diagram from when Athanasiou comes back to do his normal swing. Having all three players swing to one side is much easier for Florida to defend, and it unsurprisingly leads to a turnover.

The last clip in this sequence is the last try for this group to enter the zone. This time, Kronwall takes the puck behind the net. Hronek is on the bottom of your screen, and he, Athanasiou, and Bertuzzi are basically doing what I showed in the first diagram above. The pass to Bertuzzi is good (although again Kronwall never seems to even think about passing to his right), and Bertuzzi gets it to Athanasiou. At this point, this should lead to a successful zone entry.

While the main problems with the unit have been the positioning of Kronwall and Hronek, Athanasiou needs to keep control of this puck. He typically does, so I don’t want to say that he’s been a big part of this unit’s struggles, but I have to point out that he should do better here.

I’m going to end this edition with a good breakout by this unit that shows it can work better than it has recently. Before you watch the video, here’s a screenshot that shows you how this time the player positioning is giving Kronwall great passing options.

Rasmussen is at the very left of your screen, and he is about to move up like I diagrammed before. Bertuzzi catches his man going a little too far to Bertuzzi’s left, so #59 moves to his right, and Kronwall quickly recognizes that and makes a nice pass.

When Bertuzzi receives the pass, he has to act quickly and decisively, and he does just that, putting a pass into the space that Athanasiou is moving into.

I wanted to freeze this moment to show just how good of a pass this is. Bertuzzi doesn’t have much margin for error either in terms of placement or in terms of timing.

We know that the goal ended up not counting, but this was a good illustration of how this unit can be effective if they stay together. Here’s the full clip.

So Far

The power play has continued to be mediocre recently, although there have been signs of life. If Kronwall and Hronek are both going to play on the 2nd unit, it’s been more effective with Kronwall playing the puck carrier on the breakout, although I would rather have Hronek in that role. The reason that Kronwall has been more effective is that Hronek is doing a better job of playing the F3 role that is typically played by a forward in today’s typical 4F1D setup.

I’d also rather see Jensen and Hronek on the power play if Blashill wants to have 2 D on the second unit.


For this series, I have learned a lot from the work of Prashanth Iyer and Ryan Stimson. The latter has a new book out that is really good from what I’ve read so far. Ryan will be the guest on the next episode of Fer Sure: A 200 Foot Podcast, which will be out Monday.

Previous Editions

Week One
Week Two
Week Three
Week Four
Week Five
Week Six
Week Seven
Week Eight
Week Nine
Week Ten
Week Eleven