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Getting To Know Jeff Blashill’s System: Powerplay

Now that we’ve seen the Detroit Red Wings play a few games under new head coach Jeff Blashill, I wanted to bring to light some of the tactics that he has brought to this team. Specifically, I wanted to look at defensive zone breakouts, forechecking, offensive zone entries, special teams, and in-zone defensive coverage. What originally started as a three-part series will expand now to cover a multitude of systems based on request. The first three parts are available below.

Part 1 – Defensive Zone Breakouts

Part 2 – Forechecking

Part 3 – Defensive Zone Coverage

How Does A Powerplay Work?

To most Red Wings fans, it’s pass-pass-pass-pass-pass-lose puck-pass-pass-miss shot-pass-lose puck-powerplay over. However, there are a variety of systems that a team can utilize to setup their attack. BlueSeatBlogs did a fantastic overview a few years back on the different types of systems that can be run, including the 1-3-1, box-and-one, and overload. Under new assistant coach Pat Ferschweiler, the Red Wings primarily run the 1-3-1, a system they have run for the past few seasons. Let’s take a look to see how it works.

The 1-3-1

The 1-3-1 powerplay system is the most commonly utilized system by the Red Wings and it has been a staple of the team for the last few seasons. The basic design of the 1-3-1 is shown below.

As you can see, the top defenseman is the “1”, then there are three players lined up across the middle to represent the “3”, and finally the player in front of the net to represent the other “1”. The basic idea of the 1-3-1 is to form multiple passing triangles that allow for rapid movement of the puck to dangerous areas of the ice. As for the roles of each player, Japers Rink provided an excellent overview on what each player is supposed to do in this system.

1-3-1 Player Roles

In the diagram above, the player labeled “R” and the “D” on the right side of the image are the two powerplay quarterbacks. The puck should run through these players and they have to be your highest IQ players. They have to be good shooters and passers who are willing to be patient with the puck.

The mid-ice high defenseman should always be moving along the blue line to try and create a shooting angle. This powerplay worked best for the Red Wings when Lidstrom was that player.

The center in the image above has to keep his head on a swivel. If the puck is high, then he should be looking for a shot-pass deflection. If the puck is along the half-boards, he should be looking for a one-timer. If the puck is down low, he should be prepared to pinch as appropriate to grab a rebound.

Finally, the net front player should be providing a screen and adjusting his stance to fit the angle of the shooter. Additionally, he can step out to the side to try a jam play or pass as the Wings have done so with Justin Abdelkader and Riley Sheahan.

As you can see, the powerplay can get really complicated as there are a lot of split second decisions that each player must make in order to have this powerplay humming at maximum capacity.

For the Wings, they have recently been utilizing the following players at each position:

Position PP Unit #1 PP Unit #2
Mid-Ice Defenseman Niklas Kronwall Mike Green
R Side QB Dylan Larkin Pavel Datsyuk
L Side QB Henrik Zetterberg Brad Richards
Slot Gustav Nyquist Tomas Tatar
Net Front Justin Abdelkader Riley Sheahan

How Does The 1-3-1 Work?

Now that we’ve looked at what the roles of each player are, let’s take a look at a few diagrams demonstrating some of the plays that can be run out of the 1-3-1.

The Cross-Ice One-Timer

By having players flanking both sides of the slot, there is the potential for the cross-ice one-timer, a play the Red Wings utilize frequently. The main goal of this is to have one of the powerplay quarterbacks either make a direct pass through the slot, or swing a pass to the mid-ice defenseman who immediately swings it over to the other powerplay quarterback for the shot. The Wings utilize the latter far more frequently but will on occasion try and thread the cross-ice slot pass.

As you can see, the puck is on a string here, moving constantly. There is constant movement from all players and everyone is looking to exploit the cross-ice pass. The key to this play working is getting multiple guys down below the faceoff dots to outnumber the PK unit. This also allows the mid-ice defenseman to collapse the point, making any shot taken a closer one. When the Wings powerplay is clicking, they do this extremely well. Check out the gif below demonstrating exactly how it’s done.

The beauty of this play is that the goaltender has to constantly move and change his angle to keep up with the puck and he’s just not able to.

Here’s another example where the Wings utilize the cross-ice pass. Instead of Lidstrom one-timing the puck, he sends it over to Holmstrom for the easy tip in.

Both of these video examples were from games in previous seasons. The Wings as a team have struggled to really collapse the point and utilize rapid puck movement to generate one-timers. We haven’t seen as much of this during the 2015-2016 season, although the Wings powerplay seems to be heating up.

Feeding The Slot

Another play that can come out of the 1-3-1 is the slot pass. The slot pass can originate from below the faceoff dots or from the blue line. I’ll show you an example of both here.

In this scenario, the pass to the slot originates from the powerplay quarterback who is positioned down below the faceoff dot. This play becomes available when the two forwards on the penalty kill are over-aggressive in covering the point. In this animation, you see that both forwards are very high in the zone. This opens up a ton of space in the middle of the ice for the slot player who has plenty of time to send a one-timer by the goalie. Check out the video below demonstrating a real life example.

You can see how Kronwall and Green expertly draw the Flames‘ PK’ers out to the blue line before Green whips a pass down to Zetterberg who finds a wide open Nyquist in the slot.

Another way to feed the slot comes from the point. When feeding the slot from here, the goal is to generate a “shot-pass” to catch the goaltender moving. This has been a big favorite of the Wings powerplay over the past few years and it’s been no different under Ferschweiler this year. Here’s an animation of how this is supposed to work.

As you can see in this animation, the reason this play works is because the defenseman in red skates the puck to the center of the ice, forcing the penalty killers to make a decision as to who is going to cover him. If the center chases, then the right winger is responsible for skating all the way across the ice to cover the back pass to the red center. That’s exactly what happens and then blue right winger is late in getting there. By being late, this leaves a direct passing lane for the red center to the slot for the slap pass. Now see how this works in real time.

You can see how Kronwall’s ability to skate the puck to the middle of the ice forced the New Jersey penalty killers to make a decision and they were not able to cover the slot. Zetterberg found Nyquist with an easy shot-pass for the goal.

Passing To The Net Front

The third major play from the 1-3-1 is a direct pass to the net front. This involves having the net front player step to the side of the net to create a passing lane. He then has the ability to try a jam play, or send a cross-crease pass to a pinching player. The Red Wings will run this play a lot with Abdelkader and Sheahan because both are big guys who have good hands. Here’s an example of the Red Wings trying to run the jam play.

Alternatively, as I mentioned above, the Wings also run this same play but look for the pass instead of the shot. Below is an example of that.

Neither play is particularly high percentage but if run at the correct time, this play can catch the defense off guard. This play opens up when the defenseman that is responsible for the net front player steps up too high to engage the powerplay quarterback. In the jam pass above, you can see the New Jersey defender is almost at the faceoff dot, providing Abdelkader with ample space to receive a pass. However, this could be a smart play for the defender as Abdelkader is on his backhand, meaning he will most likely have to pass the puck when he receives it.

As you can see, there are a multitude of ways this powerplay can be effective, which is why it is so difficult to cover. There are so many passing triangles, so many set plays, and so many opportunities for scoring chances. However, the big downside is the fact that there is only one mid-ice defenseman back. That means, more often than not, this powerplay is prone to giving up shorthanded odd-man rushes off of blocked shots and in-zone turnovers. Here’s a classic example of that.

As you can see here, once Richards pinches in, there are four Red Wings below the faceoff dot, leaving only Brendan Smith back to cover. Smith is unable to stay with Carter and thus a shorthanded goal is given up. This is the biggest drawback to the powerplay and it’s honestly the biggest reason why I think the Wings haven’t been more successful this year. In my opinion, I’ve noticed that the Red Wings tend to play with three players well above the faceoff dots, but have been unsuccessful in drawing the opposition out to them. This leads to a lot of passing that happens above the faceoff dots, and not enough passes that force the defense and goaltender to move.

Look how there are four Red Wings players well above the faceoff circles here. There is absolutely nowhere to go with the puck and the only option here is to go back to Green. Essentially, the Red Wings are utilizing an aggressive powerplay system, but are playing it conservatively. Over the last couple of games, the Wings have started to play more aggressively, but they will need to continue to do so in order to remain successful. When the 1-3-1 is executed well, it is a thing of beauty as shown below. Hopefully the Red Wings will regain their aggressive nature on the powerplay.

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