Red Wings vs. Lightning - Tampa Bay's Powerplay vs. Detroit'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: April 12

Tampa's Powerplay vs. Red Wings Penalty Kill: Today

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

Quick Head-To-Head Comparison

Tampa Bay Detroit
PP% vs. PK% 15.8% (28th) 81.5% (14th)
PP CF60 vs PK CA60 91.1 (24th) 101.1 (19th)
PP HDSC/60 vs. PK HDSCA/60 19.3 (20th) 18.5 (8th)
PP xGF60 vs. PK xGA60 4.97 (27th) 5.75 (12th)

At first glance, you would suspect that Tampa's powerplay is one of the worst of the NHL. Well, that just so happens to be the prevailing opinion across the NHL. However, with the loss of Steven Stamkos, Tampa has undergone some significant changes to their powerplay structure. Arik Parnass of the NHL Special Teams Project was gracious enough to share some of the data he has collected on Tampa Bay's powerplay as the season has progressed.

This data represents 5-game rolling averages for some of the metrics that Parnass has tracked for Tampa's powerplay. As you can see, near Game 70, there is a big spike in powerplay shot attempts for per 60 minutes with a small increase in offensive zone in-formation time. This is important because Parnass has found that getting into formation quicker is the best predictor of future goals on the powerplay. Let's talk about how Tampa's powerplay sets up now.

Tampa Bay's In-Zone Powerplay Setup

Similar to the Red Wings, the Lightning also like to set up in a 1-3-1 powerplay formation which 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.

This is the personnel that Tampa Bay used over their last couple of games:

PP Unit #1
PP Unit #2

I expect Victor Hedman to replace Matt Carle on powerplay unit #1 for Tampa. Similar to Detroit, Tampa likes to run their powerplay through the left side with Jonathan Drouin on unit #1 and Tyler Johnson on unit #2. Tampa's preferred plays include one-timers from their powerplay quarterbacks and mid-ice defenseman.

Half-Boards One-Timer

With Steven Stamkos getting injured, the Lightning inserted Jason Garrison on the powerplay and have started to funnel the puck to him for shots. An example of this type of play is shown below:

Tampa quickly rotates the puck from the left boards to mid-ice to Garrison on the right boards for a one-timer. In the example above, the quick puck rotation gets Garrison a one-timer but it is a clean look for the goaltender. Here's another example of Tampa's puck movement between its quarterbacks and point man:

This particular play has become the primary play for the Lightning without Stamkos. Be prepared for Tampa to try and set up Garrison/Hedman on unit #1 and either Kucherov or Johnson on unit #2.

Mid-Ice Point Shot

If teams are keying in on the quarterbacks, Tampa will try and utilize their quarterbacks to draw the top defender towards them to open up the point. Watch an example of this below:

The key to generating a chance like this is dependent upon the powerplay quarterback's ability to draw the top defender towards him. Drouin does an excellent job of drawing the Devils' forward towards him which creates open ice for Matt Taormina.

These two plays are the major staples of the Tampa powerplay. The reason for this is because Tampa does a very poor job of getting set up in the offensive zone as you can tell from the graph above. This ultimately precludes Tampa from utilizing the slot player effectively. In yesterday's article, I talked about how Detroit used Gustav Nyquist very effectively last season en route to the 2nd best powerplay unit in the NHL. Tampa primarily uses Valtteri Filppula and Ondrej Palat, two extremely talented players with great shots. One play I'd like to see Tampa run more when they are set up is the low-release play, where either Killorn or Boyle drift to the side of the net. The half boards quarterback will pass the puck to one of these guys who will look to fire a pass into the slot to setup either Palat or Filppula for a quick one-timer.

On this play, watch the movement of Jonathan Marchessault as he moves from the near boards to the slot and then flip-flops with Alex Killorn to become the "netfront presence". Instead of heading to the front of the net, Marchessault drifts to the end boards while Killorn rotates up into the slot. This continuous movement and swapping of roles makes it difficult for the penalty killers to identify where the threat is on the ice. Marchessault calls for the puck and then one-times a pass to Killorn who fans on the shot. This play is something that I think Tampa should run a lot more considering the talent they have at every position.

Ultimately, because of Tampa's reliance on the half-boards shot and the mid-ice point shot, Tampa makes its living on rebounds and chaos. Remember from yesterday's article that per Parnass' data, 95% of powerplay goals are scored on cross-ice one-timers, deflections, rebounds, screens, and home plate attempts. Tampa is often unable to take advantage of the cross-ice one-timers, but tries to take full advantage of screens and rebounds. When you watch the Tampa powerplay, you often feel like you are watching disorganized chaos that somehow remains in the offensive zone. This is because Tampa does a fairly good job of getting to loose pucks and winning puck battles. Watch how Tampa attacks off of the rush and capitalizes off of the "disorganized chaos".

This is disorganized chaos at its finest. However, disorganized chaos does not make a successful powerplay. Tampa spends far too much time trying to get set up in the offensive zone and as stated above, this is the by the most important aspect of the powerplay. From the graphs above, Tampa has been below the six-team average in terms of time to setup for long stretches of the season and only had a brief stretch where they were above average.

Tampa Bay's Zone Entries

A big reason why Tampa takes forever to set up is because they often don't enter the zone cleanly. To put it nicely, their zone entries are awful. Tampa operates two basic zone entries, the "drop pass" and the "five back" strategy.

I discussed the drop pass with Detroit's preview yesterday and Tampa often commits the same mistakes as Detroit. Tampa, like Detroit, keeps two players as trailers, but they often drop the puck too far back, eliminating the gains from the drop pass. Watch this example here:

While this particular drop pass resulted in an entry, it was not the kind of entry that allows Tampa to set up. Johnson crosses the line all by himself with the only option being to shoot the puck from long range. The big gap in the drop pass effectively neutralizes the team's speed and forces everybody to come to a hard stop at the blue line. These kinds of entries have doomed Tampa all season.

As for the five-back entry, this play is predicated on making one pass and entering the zone. Watch how it sets up:

As you can see, the entry isn't exactly a clean one and there is very little misdirection involved. Basically, the defenseman carrying the puck up ice has to make the right read and the right pass in order to have a successful entry. Tampa is capable of this with guys like Hedman, Garrison, and Nesterov, but I would prefer something with more movement like a single swing that has a couple of moving parts across the ice.

The X-factor for Tampa's PP zone entries is actually Ben Bishop. The 6'7" Bishop is the best goalie in the NHL at starting the rush. No seriously, we actually have data. Thanks again to Parnass' hard work, we know that Bishop is 12-for-22 on 5v4 stretch pass zone entry attempts. No other goalie has attempted more than 13. Additionally, his 55% conversion rate is the highest among all players - not just goaltenders. Be careful about line changes Detroit, because Bishop will burn you.

Detroit's Penalty Kill

Detroit's basic penalty kill structure is the wedge +1, one of the more common systems utilized in the NHL today. The basic structure is shown to you below:

The three players down low form a triangle or "wedge" while the player at the top is a roving attacker that pressures the puck. The two forwards will rotate in and out of the wedge as the puck rotates from side to side. See below for how this scheme works:

This particular structure can be very effective when played correctly, but the issue that Detroit often runs into is that the forwards will overpursue. If the forwards overpursue, then quick puck rotation by the players at the top of the powerplay unit will create space for one-timers and slot passes. On the flip side, the other mistake Detroit makes is that the forwards often don't communicate when a switch needs to happen. Observe how this mistake cost Detroit in a recent game against Boston:

As the puck rotates to the near side, Justin Abdelkader should be stepping out to play Torey Krug while Luke Glendening joins the wedge. Instead, Abdelkader never leaves the wedge, allowing Krug to step into a slapshot that Jimmy Howard has no chance of stopping. The Red Wings penalty kill has wavered throughout the season between being too aggressive and not aggressive enough. Lately, they've erred on not being aggressive enough, which has not been too costly for them.

Detroit's Forecheck

In terms of forechecking, Detroit is fairly passive while shorthanded. The Red Wings play a "Same Side Press" forecheck which is designed to angle the puck carrier towards the boards and prevent passes to the far side of the ice.

The initial attacker tries to steer the puck carrier towards the boards. He'll then trail behind to try and prevent a back pass. The neutral zone forward slowly starts to shade over to the strong side to provide additional pressure on the puck carrier. The goal of the second forward should be to force a dump-in. Finally, the strong side defenseman should be prepared to retrieve the dump-in puck and reverse it to the weakside defenseman for the clear. Watch a real life example:

Look at how Glendening squeezes the puck carrier as soon as he hits the blue line. The Wings generally play this very passively and don't utilize their speed as much as I believe they should. If you were to put Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou on the PK and have them play an aggressive tandem pressure forecheck, I think you could keep the powerplay in its own zone for a solid 45 seconds per kill. Ultimately, Detroit doesn't do a good job of pressuring the forecheck with their current personnel and setup which bodes well for Tampa and their horrific zone entries.

Series Key:

From the game tape, it appears as if the key to this series will be Detroit pressuring Tampa's zone entries to prevent them from getting set up. Once Tampa gets into the zone, Detroit's forwards will have to be vigilant about shadowing the mid-ice point man to prevent clean shots on goal. This will require great communication between the two forwards as to who should be in the wedge. If communication breaks down, Tampa will be able to unleash their cannons from the point and half boards. This is a matchup that Detroit should win and did win last year as Tampa went 2-for-30 on the powerplay.

This concludes my four-part series breakdown. Thanks to everyone who checked in for any of the four parts!