By: Topher Scott & Brandon Naurato
We’re going to get right after it here. No bells or whistles…
In this post we are going to bring you the trends, tendencies, and story of how ALL Power Play goals were scored from the 2017-2018 NHL season.
Over the course of the past year, we dove deep into what made power plays successful a season ago…and it TOOK TIME. We watched every power play goal scored (there were 1561 of them!) and investigated different attributes and scenarios we thought were relevant to creating a successful power play.
It was worth it, because the data that came back was extremely insightful into uncovering why certain teams and players were successful on the man advantage. From both individual and team perspectives…we wanted to know who was scoring the goals, how they were scoring them…and most importantly, why they were scoring them.
This is not an exclusively analytics piece…nor is it based on just the seeing eye. Our intent was to blend the two together and give both a data-based and opinion-based view of how goals are scored on the power play. We’ll give you the raw numbers, but we’ll also inject our opinions based on what we know and what we saw while watching the games as well.
In reading this post, here’s what you’re going to get:
1. The Raw Data: We took 13 different data points on how goals were scored, which we detail in the next section.
2. Our Biggest Takeaways: After analyzing the data, we’ll explain what we thought was significant based off the stats and what we saw.
3. The Top 8 & Bottom 8: We combed through the data to see if there were differences between the Top 8 teams and the Bottom 8 teams in the league ranked by power play percentage. These represent the top and bottom quarter of the league.
4. A Top 8 Spotlight: We went through all of the Top 8 teams and wrote about significant stats and what made them successful.
5. Player Awards: We’ll give out awards to the players that we thought did an above-and-beyond job in their role.
LET’S GET AFTER IT!!
The RAW DATA
We took a look at 13 different data points, which are defined below:
1. SYSTEM – The type of goal scored (Ozone Possession, Entry, Empty Net, Penalty Shot). Here, Ozone Possession refers to Ozone Play. The other 3 are pretty self-explanatory.
2. ORIGIN – Where did the team gain possession of the puck (Dzone, Neutral Zone, Ozone). Here, Ozone refers to gaining possession of the puck from an Ozone faceoff either from a win or a loss that the defensive team didn’t clear…Neutral Zone when the team has to regroup after the PK chips it out…and Dzone when the team has to skate it the length of the ice.
3. POWER PLAY ROLE – Which person on the ice scored (Point, Bumper, Halfwall, Backside, Net Front).
4. GOAL TYPE – How the goal was scored (Off-Pass, Off-Rebound, In-Stride)
5. SHOT RETRIEVAL – Did the team score on its first shot/shot-rebound, or was there a shot retrieval? We did not count a shot and rebound goal (right away) as a shot retrieval. The player retrieving the shot had to make a hockey play before the next shot occurred.
6. TRAFFIC – Was there someone in front of the net causing trouble for the goalie? For this, a player didn’t necessarily have to be right in front of the goalie’s eyes in the traditional sense of the term. If there was a player right in the crease area that tapped home a rebound, tipped it in, or made the goalie have to change his line of view and work for space we counted this as traffic.
7. POSITION – Was the goal scored by a Forward or Defenseman?
8. POINT SHOT – Was the goal a result of a shot from the point? For this, the point shot did not have to be the goal. It could have been a rebound, tip, or quick play that resulted from a point shot.
9. CHAOS/STRUCTURE – Was the goal a result of the structure of the power play, or was it scored in a chaos situation? It was difficult to definitively define chaos, but we’ll do our best. The way we saw it, if the defending team wasn’t in their traditional positions OR if the players on the power play were not in their traditional structure/setup while the goal was being scored, we tagged it as chaos. Chaos goals were scored off of four different situations: Immediately after won faceoffs, entries, shot retrievals, and forecheck turnovers or failed clears. This was the most subjective metric, so all of you heavy analytics people out there reading this please take a moment to breathe, haha.
10. ROYAL ROAD – Did the puck travel through the “ROYAL ROAD” which led to a goal? The royal road is the invisible line that cuts right through the middle of the zone from goalline to the blueline.
11. OZONE SITUATION – Was the goal from extended possession or right off a faceoff starting in the offensive zone?
12. SHOT TYPE – What type of shot was used on the goal (Backhand, Deke, One Touch, One Timer, Pull, Push, Pass Attempt, Wrap Around, Slap Shot, Tip)
13. LOCATION – What spot on the ice was the goal scored? This was pretty self-explanatory, where was the puck when it was shot into the net?
HERE ARE THE RESULTS:
* NOTE* Categories 3-13 were taken only from Ozone Possession goals, not from entry goals.
3. SCORER ROLE
4. GOAL TYPE
5. SHOT RETRIEVAL
8. POINT SHOT
9. CHAOS vs. STRUCTURE
10. ROYAL ROAD
11. OZ SITUATION
12. SHOT TYPE
We used an internal metric that had a few interesting takes that we’ll talk about in the takeaways below.
Our Top 13 Takeaways from the data:
1. It’s really important to have a player on the ice at the backside position whose shot strikes fear in the other team. Take a look at the players from the Top 8 teams with the highest PP percentage in the league:
Ovechkin. Laine. Stamkos. Pastrnak. MacKinnon. Kessel/Malkin. All proven scorers that can rip a puck (Bozak was the player on Toronto’s first unit, Barzal with the Islanders…not sure they fit into this category).
If you can have a player that can score from distance, particularly on a one-timer, it will spread the PK out as they have to shade and account for that shot. It just opens up so many more options for the other players on the ice. And if the opponent doesn’t pay extra attention to them…GOAL. These guys don’t miss much when they get the opportunity.
2. Most power plays ran the same system (1-3-1), with varying degrees with what they were trying to accomplish. Some teams like to have the halfwall player on their Forehand side (Wheeler/Marner) while most utilized a player on their off-side (Kane/Kucherov). Some power plays used the bumper as a shooter, some used him as more of a release guy that distributed the puck. Some power plays liked to have a defenseman up top that had a one-time threat with the halfwall player while others like to have that Dman on his forehand side to better be able to walk the line. But at the end of the day…90% of the teams used the 1-3-1 structure.
3. Speaking of Structure…how about the fact that more than 60% of the goals came from structure versus through chaos?? This was one of the more surprising findings that we had. The buzz in hockey circles over the past few seasons has been shot volume, shot retrievals, and attacking fast off broken plays. Our data doesn’t really show that picture. The teams that can execute within their structure were the ones that scored the most goals. This goes back to #1 in that you have to have good players. PP goals aren’t necessarily “manufactured” as much as people like to think…they are scored through execution.
4. Speaking of Shot Retrievals…this one was a surprise to us as well. Again, a lot of people talk about shot volume, creating chaos, broken plays, etc…Well, almost 60% of the goals scored were scored off a team’s first shot or first shot/rebound. Are retrievals important? Absolutely. It’s always great to get a second chance to score…and 40% is still a good amount. 551 goals scored (18 per team on average) from shot retrievals means there were a lot of second/third chances. But should teams be focusing so much on shooting and retrieving while disregarding structure? After looking at the data, we don’t think so.
5. Going along with the last two points…it was surprising to see that only 25% of the goals were off rebounds and 75% were off a pass. We thought there would be a much higher percentage of goals off rebounds considering the buzz around shot volume on the PP…and the fact that goalies are really good. Again, just goes to show that execution of the structure is really important. And PASSING. You have to find a way to open up passing lanes to get the right people the puck with an opportunity to do what they do best. The teams that excelled all had a player or two that could find seams, sticks, and little open pockets to distribute the puck. Marner and Backstrom were two of our favorites.
6. The Point Shot. At first glance, it was a bit of a surprise that 75% of the goals scored did NOT originate from a point shot. I remember being at a coaching conference a long time ago and the data was a bit different where more goals were being scored from the point. But as is the NHL, when there is a trend, there are a ton of people studying it and trying to find a way to stop it. Because of those numbers, penalty kills are taking away the pass from the halfwall player to the point. They keep their high forward’s stick in that passing lane to inhibit the pass to the top. So with that, it does makes sense that so few goals are originating from point shots anymore. Well, that and the increased emphasis on blocking shots in today’s game too. Only 13% of the goals scored were scored outside the top of the circles.
7. Going along with the point shot statistics…it was interesting to see that 85% of the goals came from Forwards and only 15% came from Defensemen. I know there have been studies done on the 3F/2D configuration vs. the 4F/1D configuration when it comes to personnel. A lot of teams are doing the 4F/1D in the NHL today…including the first units of all of the teams that finished in the Top 8 of PP percentage.
8. The Royal Road. On 75% of the goals scored, the puck went through the royal road. There were three ways that it happened…skating it through (rarely), shot-rebounds to the other side of the ice (happened on occasion) and passing it through (happened a lot). Some teams excelled at passing it through seams (Tampa was unreal) and some teams passed it around the PK structure (Carlson to Ovechkin/Byfuglien to Laine). If you ask any goalie, it’s much tougher to make a save when they have to move. By passing the puck through the royal road, it forces the goalie to have to move, get a new angle, and skate to make a save.
9. The other PP tendency that caused goalies hell was traffic. And our data was certainly indicative of that as well. With over 75% of the goals scored with someone in the netminder’s comfort area, it proves how important traffic is to scoring goals. My two favorites were JVR and Anders Lee. They are a goalie’s nightmare in front.
10. Speaking of Traffic…40% of the goals were scored right in front of the net or within a foot or two of the crease area. That’s a BIG percentage of the total goals in the league. But with that said, it’s also important to note that only 60% of the goals scored in that crease area were scored by the net front player. 25% of them were scored by the bumper and the other 15% were scored by the backside and halfwall players. We saw plenty of rebounds and second chance opportunities being scored by players other than the player right in front of the net. When shots occur, it’s important for EVERYONE to be ready for those second chance opportunities.
11. It’s important to get shots off your stick fast. 50% of the goals were scored on a one-touch or a one-timer…with another 13% scored off tips. The quicker you shoot, the less time the goalie has to get his angle and get to his spot to make a save.
12. Faceoffs are important. But faceoff plays may not be the end-all-be-all as less than 10% of the goals were scored right off the draw. With all of the work that coaches put into set faceoff plays…with only 10% of goals coming right off a faceoff win…one can debate how much time to put into the set offensive plays. However, 35% of ALL power play goals scored originated from possession starting in the offensive zone after a faceoff. That means that ¼ of ALL power play goals scored came from extended possession after an offensive zone win or loss. If I’m a coach, I’m not so worried about having the right set offensive plays to attack off a faceoff. I’d like to have a few plays. But I am going to be extremely detailed to make sure that we gain possession after a won or lost draw.
13. The biggest gripe in a coach’s room when your power play isn’t doing well is this: “We don’t have good enough players.”
The biggest gripe in the GM’s office when your power play isn’t doing well is this: “The coach isn’t using the players to the best of his ability.”
All the high level coaches/scouts reading this know what we’re talking about. So when it comes to Power Play…where do we stand?
Obviously, you need both. As the statistics show, you need good players and they need a good structure. You need the skill, but that skill has to be put in roles where they can succeed.
But if you were to ask us which is more important and we had to choose? We’d say you need the horses. If you look at the Top 8 vs. the Bottom 8 personnel, it tells that story. Almost every single Top 8 team has one person who can rip it and score from outside the immediate slot…and some of them have multiple. In the Bottom 8, not so much. In the end, that one player can make all the difference.
The Differences Between the Top 8 Teams and the Bottom 8 Teams.
The Top 8 and Bottom 8 teams based on PP% are below:
Top 8 – Pittsburgh, Toronto, Tampa Bay, Boston, Winnipeg, NY Islanders, Washington, Colorado
Bottom 8 – Edmonton, St. Louis, Chicago, Calgary, Ottawa, Arizona, Columbus, Detroit
All things considered, we found that goals were scored relatively similarly when it came to the top and bottom teams based on power play percentage. Whether it was chaos/structure, point shot, who was scoring the goals, or any of the other data points we studied…there wasn’t a huge difference in HOW the goals were being scored.
However, there were a few striking differences between the Top 8 and Bottom 8 that may attribute to why these teams fell where they did in the PP standings…
1. The biggest difference between the Top 8 and Bottom 8 was in the amount of goals that were scored Off-Pass. On average, the Top and Bottom 8 teams were similar when it came to rebound goals (12-9 on average between the top and bottom). But when it came to goals off a pass, the Top 8 averaged 41 goals while the Bottom 8 averaged only 26. That’s 15 more goals scored in this area…which we think is pretty significant.
2. The second difference had to do with the percentage of goals scored from one-timers. The Top 8 scored 33% of their goals off of one-timers, while the Bottom 8 only scored 26%. This 7% difference was the largest discrepancy of the data points between the Top and Bottom 8 teams that we found. And it just goes to show how important it is to have a player like an Ovechkin, Laine, or Stamkos who can hammer the puck from distance.
Now let’s go through the Top 8 teams and what made them really good:
1. Pittsburgh: I know that the data says that most goals come off of structure…but the Pens lived on creative/uncertain situations. They had the most goals percentage-wise of any team off entry, off chaos, and off shot retrievals. They were so good in chaos…particularly Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel. They also had an absolute rock star in Patric Hornqvist, who tied for 3rd in the league in PP goals. Him and Crosby were so good in front of the net and winning battles down low for puck retrievals. Kessel and Crosby were 2nd and 4th in the league in PP assists and really had a knack for when attack and when to let things develop in front of them.
2. Toronto: Want to hear something crazy? Auston Matthews wasn’t even on the top unit last year! But I’ll tell you what…their top unit was unreal. To start, JVR was THE MAN in front of the net…and the biggest stat that jumped out at me was that only one goal that they scored on the PP last year was without traffic. ONE. That just goes to show you how incredible JVR was. Next, Mitch Marner is an absolute magician with the puck. The way that he can find seams and sticks in tight areas is next level. The top unit loved the play where Marner would get the puck high on the halfwall and try to find Kadri’s stick as the bumper for a high pass/tip (Kadri led the team in PPG’s). Toronto liked to do that play a lot…and they were really good at deliberately presenting sticks for passes and shots. Lost on it all was the fact that Morgan Rielly led the team in assists on the PP…he was so good at walking the line and distributing the puck to the right person at the right time.
3. Tampa Bay: Kucherov and Stamkos are unreal together. That’s the given that everybody knows. Both can rip the puck, and both can find each other through the seam better than any other duo in the league. But the craziest stat that we found from the Lightning was that they had the highest percentage of their goals from the net front player than any other team in the league. Namestnikov and JT Miller (they were traded for each other) were huge benefactors of so much attention placed on Kucherov and Stamkos. But I think the biggest reason that Tampa was third in the league was they had the best second unit of any team in the NHL. Sergachev, Gourde, Point, Johnson, Palat…they scored A LOT of goals. We didn’t take stats of first/second unit goals, but I bet if we did they would be number one. This unit attributed to a lot of the team’s net-front goals as well.
4. Boston: Like Pittsburgh, Boston was one of the few teams that I thought thrived under non-structure. Torey Krug and Brad Marchand…those guys were almost like rovers instead of being in the same spot. Of all the teams, they were in their “set up” seemingly the least amount of time…and they wanted to attack fast. Krug and Marchand were really good being creative and finding areas…and Pastrnak can really score (he had 13 goals, tied for 10th in the league). But my favorite player on this PP unit was Patrice Bergeron. He played the bumper and he is so, so smart. When his teammates were under pressure and he needed to be in an area for a release, he was there. When there was a chance to get open for a shot, he was there. Shot retrievals, there. He really made the power play in my opinion, and was a huge part of the puzzle that allowed Krug and Marchand to be more nomadic inside the zone.
5. Winnipeg: So…Patrick Laine can shoot the puck. He led the league with 20 PPG’s and he was incredible on the backside position. He is one of the few players in the league that scored goals on a wrist shot from distance. But at the end of the day, this unit ran through Blake Wheeler. I thought he was one of the best in the league at distributing the puck, as evidenced by him leading the NHL in power play assists. On any given night, he had Laine, Scheifle, and Byfuglien all reared to smoke a one-time pass…and he was really good at getting it to them. An interesting stat showed that only Washington had more of a percentage of their goals off a pass, clocking in at 84%…and Winnipeg had the least percentage of all the teams in the Top 8 of goals scored after shot retrievals. They seemingly only needed one shot…and with the dynamic of Wheeler passing and that 3-headed monster shooting…I guess there wasn’t much need for rebounds. Winnipeg also had a top notch second unit with Ehlers, Perrault, and Myers leading the way.
6. NY Islanders: The only team in the Top 8 that didn’t make the playoffs. But it certainly wasn’t because of their power play. First off, there is no better player in the league on entries than Matt Barzal. When he gets the puck dropped to him in the neutral zone, he weaves his way through defenders like nobody else in the league. I’m sure if there’s a metric out there for possession carrying the puck in…he’d be at the top. Second, I like how they used Tavares in different spots on the PP. Sometimes he was the bumper. Sometimes on the halfwall. Sometimes in the strong-side corner. He was a good rover. Anders Lee is an absolute stud in front of the net. He tied for 6th in the NHL in PP goals, and as a team the Islanders had the highest percentage of their goals in the Top 8 off a rebound. But like Winnipeg, I think that the power play ran through their top halfwall player, the underrated Josh Bailey. He was really smart and tied for 8th in PP assists in the NHL. Lee and Tavares certainly benefitted from his hockey IQ and so did the success of the team’s power play.
7. Washington: What is there to say about the Caps that we don’t already know having watched them terrorize the NHL in the playoffs on their way to a Stanley Cup. Ovechkin might be the best backside PP shooter ever (apologies to Brett Hull). And Carlson was so good at feeding him right where he needed it, which is a tougher pass than people would give him credit for (Carlson was tied for 5th in PP assists in the league). Oshie was Mr. Everything as the bumper – he could shoot, tip, hound retrievals, dish…everything. And then Backstrom and Kuznetsov were wizards with the puck. They hardly scored off the rebound (only 6 all year) which shows you they only needed one shot as well. They also did well off chaos, only behind Pittsburgh in % of their goals off chaos. They could beat you in every which way…and did.
8. Colorado: I should have put money down before the year that Mikko Rantanen was going to have a breakout year. Because watching all of their PP goals, you could tell that the kid was special. He had such an ability to make plays and had great chemistry with MacKinnon and Barrie up top. And speaking of MacKinnon…his wrist shot, like Laine’s, is absolutely lethal. He can score with that shot from the outside, which very few people in the world can do. MacKinnon was also incredible at entering the zone with possession, like Matt Barzal. He is so fast, shifty, and smart, and was great at maneuvering through the defense after getting the drop pass. But while Rantanen and MacKinnon led the team in goals, Barrie at the point and Landeskog in front were very good at executing their roles and creating for the two stars. Barrie/MacKinnon reminded me a lot of Carlson/Ovechkin in ways, and Landeskog was smart and gritty in front of the net. This was a fun PP unit to watch and carried their team into the playoffs.
So, who were our favorite players?
Point – My favorite to watch was Torey Krug. He was so unpredictable in what he was going to do that I think it kept the PK on edge. He wasn’t afraid to make a mistake and played with a confidence that I envy. He’s also small, so he gets points for that in my book!
Backside – How can you not go with OV8? The guy is an absolute legend. It’s hilarious to watch him because there are times he stands there with terrible body language. But when the puck gets to him…he doesn’t miss. It’s hard not putting Laine here because he led the NHL in PP goals, but Ovechkin won the Cup with his PP play.
Bumper – Nazem Kadri had the most goals from this spot, but my favorite was Patrice Bergeron. He was so smart and knew how to use that little space in the middle better than anyone. The Bruins were pretty unpredictable at times, but the one constant was that Bergeron was going to be in the right position and making the right play.
Halfwall – This one I’m going to give to Nikita Kucherov…mainly because I think he was the biggest dual threat. He could find Stamkos on the backside in his sleep…but he can also score with the best of them. His quick wrister caught the goalie of guard a few times and his shot opened up space for passing lanes around the rest of the zone as well.
Net Front – James van Riemsdyk was the best here in my opinion for a couple different reasons. He was great at screening the goalie (evidenced by Toronto’s ONE goal scored all year without traffic). But he was also really good at knowing how to present his stick and when to step off the front of the net to make himself available to make a play. He scored a few goals and set up a few more getting it right off the side and making a great play, whether it was taking it to the net himself or finding a teammate. I think Kadri led bumpers in goals partly because of the menace JVR was in front.
Most Underrated – It’s tough to say Phil Kessel is underrated because of his star power, but I don’t think he gets enough credit because of who else is on his PP unit. Kessel is awesome on entries and inside the zone. He has a deceptively quick shot, but could also find his teammates in chaos really well. Another guy that is REALLY underrated is Josh Bailey. He’s not a household name…but he is REALLY GOOD and was a huge part of the Islanders’ PP fortunes last year.
To end this project, we are going to talk about one strategic approach that we found to be a huge benefit to the Power Play.
It was shown how important passing is to a power play. 75% of the goals came off a pass. And with that, there is an incredible importance on finding and opening passing lanes…particularly through the seam.
One way to gain access to seam passes is through chaos…it’s much harder to pass through the PK structure when everyone is in position. But we started to see a trend, which we are going to call the “Staggered” set up on the power play. Check out the picture below:
Carolina’s Halfwall, Bumper, and Backside players are in a straight line. The weakside PK forward’s responsibility is the bumper…and since the three are in the straight line…there is no passing lane through to the backside player.
So Carolina does some work…and check out the following picture:
Here you see the three in staggered formation, with the backside player coming out higher and the bumper releasing lower. That weakside forward now is forced to make a decision…and in this instance he goes down to make sure the bumper is covered. This opens up the seam from halfwall to backside, which Aho ends up finding and this play ends up in a goal after a backside one timer/rebound.
Looking at the data, this type of setup can be extremely effective. Its merits cross off a lot of the boxes of why PP goals are scored – Off a Pass. Through the royal road. One Timer. Structure.
We started to see a lot of goals scored like this. Staggered setups caused the defensive team to have to make decisions on 2v1s. Who do they take away? Who do they leave open? And when you have players of high caliber left open…the red light seems to find its way on.
At the end of the day, we look forward to using this data from a year ago to see what trends hold and what trends change in the present and future. Hockey is consistently changing, and it will be interesting to watch how Power Plays adapt to the ever-changing landscape. Thanks for taking the time to check this article out, we’d love to hear your comments and feedback! If you have any thoughts, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!