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Weekly Red Wings Power Play Update - Week 14

What can both structure and motion tell us about the power play?

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NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Detroit Red Wings Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to Week Fourteen 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 January 7th. The game against Montreal on the 8th 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: 20th. Last week: 20th
Unblocked Shots / 60: 28th. Last week: 26th
High Danger Chances For / 60: 27th. Last week: 26th
% HDCF of Unblocked Shots: 24th. Last week: 22nd

Detroit didn’t move up or down in 5v4 Goals/60 from last week, but since they didn’t score a 5v4 goal this past week, that’s due to the team’s below them not doing well either. Overall, Detroit continues to go downward towards the bottom of the league in the other metrics.

Here is a look at the PK stats of the teams we played last week.


Goals Against / 60: 21st
Unblocked Shots Against / 60: 4th
High Danger Chances Against / 60: 9th
% HDCA of Unblocked Shots: 23rd


Goals Against / 60: 12th
Unblocked Shots Against / 60: 12th
High Danger Chances Against / 60: 7th
% HDCA of Unblocked Shots: 12th


Goals Against / 60: 23rd
Unblocked Shots Against / 60: 3rd
High Danger Chances Against / 60: 12th
% HDCA of Unblocked Shots: 27th

None of these teams are dominant or overly weak in all areas. Washington doesn’t give up a lot of unblocked shots, but out of those they do give up, they have a higher rate of being high danger chances than all but 4 teams. Calgary is in a similar boat. Watching the Capitals penalty kill, I’m not surprised at all to see those numbers. They play very aggressively, which is effective much of the team, but when you can beat an aggressive team, it can often lead to a good scoring chance.

Shot Locations

In this edition, I’m going to talk about the competing ideas of structure and movement.

In Week 11’s edition, I referred to Matt Cane’s Structure Index, which is a way to measure where players are taking their shots from as a unit. If you want a more detailed explanation, please look at the link above, where you can see his article on the topic.

The short version is that you first find each players average shot distance from their average shot location. Then you take the average of each player’s average distance and weight it by the number of shots he takes. The lower the number the better.

So far, Detroit only has one 5 man unit that has taken 30+ unblocked shots at 5v4. This is largely due to injuries, as when players were healthy, the power play units didn’t change very much. The unit is Gustav Nyquist, Dennis Cholowski, Thomas Vanek, Frans Nielsen, and Dylan Larkin. Here is a heatmap of their shot locations and each player’s structure index while part of this unit:

The weighted average is 13.59. To put that into context, here are the lines with the top structure index in the NHL. The bars don’t give you the actual number, so I have taken these lines and put them together onto the second chart. If a team has more than one unit listed, that means they had more than one unit with 30+ unblocked shots at 5v4. I put Detroit at the top, so you can see the differences. These images come from Meghan Hall’s Tableau. (Her number for the Detroit line is a little different than mine, but I believe her numbers don’t include the last few games.)

Meghan Hall
Meghan Hall

Cane’s research found that “Structure index is a stronger predictor of future goals than past goals is, but weaker than shot generation. Taken together with shot generation, it is a significant predictor of future goals, although slightly less important than shot attempt generation.”

On the most recent edition of Fer Sure, we talked to Ryan Stimson, who has a new book out about called Tape to Space: Redefining Modern Hockey Tactics.

Stimson theorizes that the current way of looking at power plays puts an artificial ceiling on power play potential.

“However, the appeal of defined roles and right versus left-handed shots on certain sides of the ice has a ceiling on how successful it can be,” he writes, pointing out that the highest success rate since 2005-06 was the Capitals, who one season scored at 26.8%.

He argues that teams sticking to a formation are limiting their potential and that the best way to attack on the power play is to “force the opposition to attempt to cover and defend against a rapid, passing attack. Playing from below the end line is even more advantageous on the man advantage than at 5v5 play.”

I don’t want to add much more because I think you should read his book, which goes into much greater detail.

I do believe that Stimson’s ideas make sense, and are backed up by research. In his book, he refers to research by Steve Spott, who believes a power play should aim to take a shot every seven seconds (which sounds like a good rule of thumb to me.) Stimson thinks that a power play unit should motion or rotate every ten seconds, which also sounds like a good guideline.

Let’s Go To The Videotape!

For this week’s installment, I want to follow up on the ideas above and look at player movement on the power play. If you’ve been watching the games, you know this has especially been an issue lately. Let’s take a look at some good and bad examples from the past week.

First off, I wanted to follow up on last week’s look at the 2nd unit breakout. This time, while I still don’t like Kronwall and Hronek on a unit if Kronwall is the point man, the breakout is much better than last week.

Hronek (at the bottom of your screen) swings out like a forward. Last week, he looked hesitant playing that position on the power play, but in this play he chips it into the zone and wins a race to the puck, bringing two defenders to him, which leads to wide open space.

On this next clip, Thomas Vanek wins the puck behind the net, and you can see both how the players are continuously in motion and the puck moves quickly. This is what we want to see. The only negative here is that instead of shooting, Cholowski should have passed to Nyquist at the end.

While this next play leads to a turnover, this is again more of what you want to see. As frustrating as it is for the pass from Nielsen to be tipped on its way to Nyquist, look at the freeze frame to see how close this was to being a pretty passing play that Vanek could score on a tap-in.

Now for some examples of what happens when Detroit’s power play doesn’t move as much as they should.

This is the beginning of the 4 on 3 in overtime against Nashville. It’s embarrassing how little energy Nashville has to expend here, even before the bad luck of the pass going over Larkin’s stick.

I’ve noticed that Detroit typically has very little sense of urgency when they have a 4 on 3 or a 5 on 3. They are trying to set up the perfect play, when that’s not required. On this 4 on 3, they should absolutely have a player set up behind the net, and they should be moving a lot more to make the Predators defenders have to react to different angles.

This next clip is from when they regain the zone after the clear above. Pretty much the same thing. At no point do they set up a dangerous scoring chance. Yes, Kronwall has a habit of slowing the play down on the power play, but he is not the only one at fault here.

At risk of belaboring the point, here’s another sequence from that same 4 on 3. Larkin and Kronwall switch, but the defenders don’t have to move. Detroit made the defenders’ jobs far too easy on this entire power play.

In a previous edition, I talked about the 1-3 and the 1-1-2 forecheck strategy by the penalty killers. Washington utilizes the more aggressive 1-1-2, and I wanted to show a clip of that. When Kronwall makes the first pass, you can see the second forward in front of the two defenders. The drop pass breakout typically doesn’t do as well against the 1-1-2 as it does against the 1-3, although in this case, they get possession in the offensive zone (Vanek is out of frame at the bottom of the screen at the end of the clip to receive the rim around.)

This next clip illustrates what the first forechecker on the penalty kill wants to do, and he executes it perfectly. He takes the perfect angle on Larkin to both cut off the pass to Larkin’s left and angle Larkin to the boards, where it’s an easy turnover. Detroit could have played this better, but at the same time, this is a perfect example of what that the F1 on the PK is trying to do.

The last two clips show examples of what motion can do for your power play, although not nearly to the level that Stimson discusses.

Vanek starts off in the half-board role, then moves to his typical net front position. But, he doesn’t just stand in front of the net, he’s still moving. At the end of this clip, he’s moving below the goal line.

A little later in the same sequence, he sets up below the goal line. Notice how the defenders are now all facing their own goal. The problem is that while Vanek is in a position to make the defenders adjust to angles they don’t have to normally worry about, the rest of the team isn’t doing much to take advantage of that.

The end of this also illustrates why Vanek is both the most creative player we have on the power play, as well as the most frustrating because he sometimes makes passes like that.

So Far

This edition wasn’t nearly as much fun to write as previous ones because there wasn’t even one goal to show. Injuries do have some bearing on the results, although I think the player deployment could be improved. Kronwall has been getting more time than Cholowski, which should not happen. The rookie has made some mistakes, but he’s shown that he’s capable of doing very well on the power play and the team should be focused on giving the young players more minutes and more responsibility.

Lastly, I can’t recommend Ryan’s book enough. If you didn’t get a chance to hear him on Fer Sure, you can listen to that and see for yourself how knowledgable he is before buying the book. I’ll see you back here next week for another installment.

Previous Editions

Week One
Week Two
Week Three
Week Four
Week Five
Week Six
Week Seven
Week Eight
Week Nine
Week Ten
Week Eleven
Week Twelve - No Edition This Week
Week Thirteen