Red Wings vs. Lightning - Detroit's Powerplay vs. Tampa Bay's Penalty Kill

The stage is set for the 2016 playoffs and the Detroit Red Wings are going to meet a familiar foe, the Tampa Bay Lightning. Unlike last season's team, this year's version of the Lightning is bruised, battered, and ripe for the taking. Will the Red Wings be able to take advantage of a team missing Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman along with an injured Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, and Victor Hedman? I took a look at how the Red Wings systems matchup against the Lightning's systems. This is part three of a four-part series preview that will go as follows:

Detroit's Offense vs. Tampa's Defense: April 10th

Tampa's Offense vs. Detroit's Defense: April 11th

Detroit's Powerplay vs. Tampa's Penalty Kill: Today

Tampa's Powerplay vs. Red Wings Penalty Kill: April 13th

Detroit's Powerplay vs. Tampa Bay's Penalty Kill

Quick Stats

Detroit Tampa Bay
PP vs. PK% 18.8 (13th) 84.0% (7th)
PP CF60 vs. PK CA60 99.1 (14th) 102.8 (24th)
PP HDSC/60 vs. PK HDSCA/60 21.5 (10th) 20.4 (14th)
PP xGF60 vs. PK xGA60 6.09 (15th) 5.37 (5th)

Detroit's Powerplay Setup

Like a majority of teams in the NHL, Detroit operates out of a 1-3-1 basic setup. The basic structure for this powerplay is shown below:

The D at the top of the image is "1" followed by the D-C-RW in the middle representing "3", and the LW in front of the net representing the final "1". This powerplay setup provides two strong sides with the opportunity to run the powerplay from either side of the ice. Additionally, the formation provides numerous cross-ice and one-timer passing options, making it difficult for a PK unit to defend. The left-sided "D" and the "RW" in the image above are the powerplay quarterbacks, responsible for driving the powerplay. The mid-ice defenseman is responsible for helping to maintain proper spacing and being ready to fire a one-timer if passed the puck. The slot player should be available for shot passes and quick one-timers when the powerplay has clear possession as well as distracting the defense with constant movement. Finally, the netfront player is responsible for providing support below the goal line as well as screening the goaltender. Watch an example animated 1-3-1 powerplay below:

The Wings use the following players on PP unit #1 and PP unit #2:

PP Unit #1

PP Unit #2

The Wings primarily like to run their powerplay from the left half boards through Henrik Zetterberg on PP unit #1 and Pavel Datsyuk on PP #2. From this formation, the Wings have a few set plays that they like to run once set up in the zone.

The Shot Pass

This play is made by the movement of Niklas Kronwall sliding along the blue line and dragging the top Tampa Bay defender with him. By doing this, he opens up the left side of the ice for Zetterberg who skates up from the goal line to receive the pass. Once he receives the puck, Zetterberg immediately readies himself to shoot and tries to draw the Tampa Bay defenseman towards him and away from the slot. This frees up Gustav Nyquist in the slot who has his stick on the ice ready to tip the puck. The Wings have not utilized this play much as of late but it has been a staple of their powerplay for the last several years.

The Jam Play

This is one of my least favorite plays. While I don't have the data to back me up, I feel like this is one of the least successful plays for the Red Wings and almost always results in a faceoff. It's a low percentage play to take the puck straight to the net and I would prefer the netfront player to try to attempt a netfront pass instead of trying to jam the puck past the goalie.

The Mid-Ice One-Timer

In this example, watch how the puck quickly moves from side-to-side, and when it gets back to Zetterberg, he skates down the half boards to collapse the defense. This opens up space at the point for Kronwall to step into a one-timer. The Wings have used this play for years, dating back to the Nick Lidstrom era.

One play that has somewhat fallen out of favor for the Red Wings is the Low Zone Slot Pass shown below:

In this play, focus your eyes on Nyquist and his movement without the puck. As soon as Zetterberg drifts behind the goal line, Nyquist darts into the open ice of the slot to create a passing lane for Zetterberg. This was a play the Red Wings utilized a bunch last season and is a huge reason why Nyquist had 14 powerplay goals last season.

Detroit's PP Zone Entries

Before a team can setup in the zone, they first have to gain entry (assuming they didn't maintain offensive zone possession off of the initial faceoff). There are a variety of schemes that teams use to enter the zone, but the Red Wings primarily rely on the drop pass. While many fans despise the use of the drop pass, data from Arik Parnass of the NHL Special Teams Project suggests that the drop pass is no less effective than other zone entries when executed appropriately. That last part is important because that has been an area of concern for the Red Wings.

Success with the drop pass zone entry is based on two basic principles - speed and misdirection. Both the initial puck carrier and the trailers need to attack center ice with speed. The initial puck carrier's responsibility is to draw the attention of the initial forechecker and then drop the puck back behind him to a trailer who picks it up and has room to operate. The biggest issue for the Wings has been that they utilize Niklas Kronwall as the initial puck carrier and Henrik Zetterberg as the trailer. Neither of these guys scream "speed" and thus the Wings have struggled to make forecheckers miss in the neutral zone.

In this example you can see that Kronwall doesn't hit center ice with a ton of speed. He then drops the puck back to Zetterberg who also doesn't have any speed. As a result, none of the forecheckers end up out of place and the entire play fails. The Wings tried to combat this by adding a second trailer and have been better since, though not outstanding.

Tampa Bay's Penalty Killing

Tampa Bay's basic penalty kill structure is a diamond where they utilize a low-high press to put pressure on 1-3-1 powerplay quarterbacks. A animation of this is provided below

As the puck rotates from the point to the half boards, the high PK forward steps into the passing lane to block the return pass to the point while the strong side defenseman steps up to prevent a clean shot to the net. Additionally, F2 (blue L in the video above) will come down and take away the slot pass. This takes away all options from the powerplay quarterback and can be very frustrating to work against. Here's an example of it in action:

In this clip you can see that as the puck rotates down the half boards, the top Tampa forward steps into the passing lane back to the point while the Tampa defenseman squares up to block the shot. Generally the Tampa defender will step out a bit more to block the shot, but this particular example was not played 100% correctly.

To play this system well, the penalty killers have to constantly be aware of who is the most dangerous threat on the ice and how they can take away that option. In the clip above, you can see that even though the Tampa defender is physically positioned between the point and half-boards, he recognizes that the most dangerous threat is the slot player and thus he has his stick positioned to take away that pass.

Tampa Bay Forecheck

When it comes to forechecking, Tampa Bay likes to use their skill players on the penalty kill when possible to pressure the opposition as they carry the puck up the ice. One tandem that Tampa really likes to use is Steven Stamkos and Ondrej Palat. The Lightning used a "Forwards Wide" forecheck which is shown below:

The red defender in the corner wants to start the breakout. The blue C will skate in with speed and try and angle that defender to the boards as much as possible. By doing this and skating slightly behind him, the blue C is effectively taking away the dotted passes available to the defender. On the other side of the ice, the other blue defender is curling the opposite direction and is staying wide along the far boards. The end result of this is having four players stand up on the defensive blue line to try and force a dump-in. Watch this forecheck in action below:

Notice how aggressively Stamkos attacks the puck carrier and then peels off and stays wide along the boards. You can see how Tampa wants to have four players stacked along the blue line as the Islanders try to break in. On this occasion the Islanders were successful carrying the puck in, but it is often difficult to do so.

Series Key:

With Tampa's forecheck, Detroit's defense will have to be prepared to protect the puck and be patient. After Detroit exits the zone, the key to exploiting the Lightning's penalty kill is cross-ice passes from dot to dot. More work from Parnass suggests that 95% of powerplay goals are scored on high quality attempts, defined as tips, rebounds, screens, cross-ice one-timers, and home plate attempts. The opening that Tampa gives you is the cross-ice pass. The way to generate it is to have the slot player drive the net to open up the space behind him for a pass. Take a look at how the Islanders exploit this option.

This play is there for the taking and is available from the side that the Red Wings like to run their powerplay on. It will be interesting to see how Detroit handles Tampa's forechecking pressure and in-zone puck pressure. Generally the book on Detroit's players has been to pressure them into mistakes. However, if the Wings want to win this series, they will need to show poise with the puck and find these passing lanes to exploit the Tampa Bay penalty kill. The unfortunate part is that even if Detroit does find a way to exploit these, there's always Ben Bishop. The gargantuan netminder ranks 3rd in the NHL in 4v5 SV% at 91.25%. To put that in perspective, Bishop's save percentage when shorthanded is 6% better than Jimmy Howard's overall SV%. Overall, Detroit has an excellent chance to exploit Tampa's penalty kill, but I believe this matchup will come down to how good Bishop is while shorthanded. If he's a rock like he has been all season, Detroit doesn't have a chance. If he falters...well never say never.