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Kats Krunch: Tale of Two Power Plays

Two teams, two power plays with two diverse results, while sharing a common affliction.

I had the opportunity to take in the Stars as they rolled in through the ACC to play the Maple Leafs on Dec 3, offering a glimpse into the abysmal Stars power play systems with some background through a live viewing to further decipher the reason for special teams futility. I had similar fortune with a live view of the Tampa Bay Lightning a couple of weeks back, offering the same opportunity to note the team’s power play systems – and potential flaws. The contrast in power play success here is striking.

They both have the same problem, a wide gap between shots on goal. Clearly, shot attempts are the best method of deciphering a power play and why it may not be firing on all cylinders, but what is presented below is a tale of two diverging successes despite the lack of shots.

This is the story of the potent Tampa Bay Lightning and futile Dallas Stars five-on-four power play.

I’m going to reserve the right to get into extensive video here, only because I’m trying to understand the power play in general on a more macro level. I’ll eventually get into the video breakdown but I’d like get it to another level with different teams playing different systems in zone – along with a different method of rushing through the neutral zone and gaining the blueline.

Below is a chart of the NHL power play as of Dec 2, 2014, after the Stars/Leafs game. Scales on either side represent power play efficiency and power play goals on the left and opportunities on the right.

Two bars are colored in red, two power plays with parallels despite two distinct styles. The Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning occupy a sizable gap in power play efficiency.



TampaBay has been humming along at a 23.6%, one standard deviation from the 18.57% NHL average and two standard deviations from Dallas sputtering at an abysmal 13.6%. both teams rank at the bottom of the league in power play shots with similar power play opportunities for each club. With a difference of eight minutes in 5v4 time has produced nine more goals for the Lightning than the Stars.

Team  GP  PP Opp  PP Shots  PPG PP%  5v4 Time 
TBL 26 89 91 21 23.6 131:50
DAL 25 88 79 12 13.6 140:02

Best illustrated in the image below, both teams take too long on average between shot attempts events on the 5v4 power play (for the purpose of this illustration I am only focusing on the one-man down situation, since a 5v3 carries a different dynamic). The Lightning and Stars take over 1:40 for a proper shot on goal.

In a direct comparison among the rest of the NHL, both teams are way above the pack in terms of time between shots on goal, comparing to the NHL averages as per the table below.

Tm min/FF min/CF min/SF
TBL 1:08 0:50 1:43
DAL 1:15 0:48 1:48
NHL Av 0:53 0:38 1:12

The NHL average is 1:12 between a shot on goal, 53 seconds between Fenwick Events (unblocked shot attempts) and 38 for Corsi events. Historically, starting from the 2011-12 season, this is how the uniformity across the league looks year-to-year.

NHL historical

Fsh% and Csh% represent the percentage of shots that make up the underlying components of Fenwick and Corsi shot attempt metrics. I'll expand on the breakdown of Fenwick and Corsi events represented by shots for 2014-15 up to and including Dec 2, 2014 a little further down. For now this image is the comparison of time gap between shots on goal and the percentage of shots associated in Fenwick Events. Both Dallas and Tampa Bay are direct outliers here.

SOG vs FF Event time

It’s different than a Pittsburgh that can set up and execute, or the Washington Capitals that are firing into a Corsi event every 28 seconds.

Some of the reasons I’ve observed to explain some of the team’s issues with the man-advantage are:

Tampa Bay Lightning
  • Lightning make it complicated to get into the zone from the breakout.
  • The setup for a breakout takes too long to get out of the defensive zone.
  • Options in the neutral zone aren’t always readily available and force the puckcarrier to gain the offensive zone as a result.
  • Wingers wait along the blueline to force back the defensemen, and may get a late pass to gain entry, otherwise set up as sentry posts without effect in the play.
  • Sometimes play with the puck at the top of the zone introducing a risk of penalty killers easily moving the puck out and forcing a regroup.
  • Less structure and more freelancing in the neutral zone on the regroup.
  • Once set up in the offensive zone, they pass it around too long looking for the perfect shot or the seam to send pucks through.
  • Too many blocked shots.
Dallas Stars
  • Dallas moves too slow through the neutral zone regardless of a formal breakout or a regroup from a dump out of the offensive zone by the penalty killing team.
  • Too many stationary players along the blueline waiting to get the zone instead of movement
  • Plays seem forced along the blueline.
  • Too much individualism, trying to gain the zone and not enough passing options.
  • Once gaining the zone, the tendency is to fire the puck around the boards to set up (seems a waste since they’ve already gained the zone.)
  • Stars also seem to switch the set up from new-wave traditional 1-3-1 into a modified 2-3 with two shooters at the top and three forwards a little lower in the zone (slot presence moves to the crease with the puck at the top of the zone and into the slot with the puck on either wing, with the weak side winger slightly edging towards the net as the set up to the slot man becomes the go-to play.)
  • Limiting the data to only shots on goal only limits the shot attempts function, so I wanted to see just what is happening with the shots in regards to overall shot attempts. The image below illustrates the percentage of shots comprising Fenwick (unblocked shot attempts) and Corsi (including blocked shots) events at 5v4. Both clubs fire less than 50% of their Corsi events as shots on goal. Tampa Bay has a slight edge over the Stars in terms of percentage of shots for their Corsi – although both are below the 50% threshold (Edmonton is the next closest bubble along the slope to the right of Tampa Bay).

SOG vs FF Event percent

Historically, within the BtN era (2007 - 2014), this is what the chart looks like up to and including 2014-15 data. Colorado has had the highest percentage of shots with Los Angeles, St. Louis and Dallas at the other end. Averages are in the blue box.

2007-14 FF vs CF

With the issue of gaining the zone eating up some valuable time off the clock during the 5v4, switching the focus from zone entry to in-zone time, both teams struggle to get shots on goal in comparison to the NHL average. Using data from sheds some light on what’s happening during shot attempts.

Dallas gets more shots on goal through to the net on a per-60 basis, yet fire more pucks that miss the net according to NHL average, but have half the rate of blocked shots at 5v4. 

TampaBay, on the other hand, are almost three times as likely to have a shot blocked, pulling down the overall shots-for per 60 rate to almost half the NHL average. Not only are they taking a little too long to get shots through to the net, they’re struggling to get shots on goal.

Team  SF On/60  MF On/60  BF On/60
DAL 21.16 17.42 1.44
T.B 16.24 17.3 9.61
NHLAv 35.05 15.95 3.46

Taking it down one level from the team to position, the Lightning blueline seems to have a greater majority of shots blocked compared to the NHL average, while the forwards coast along the average, missing more shots than the average. It’s juxtaposition with the Stars and Lightning for missed shots, Stars forwards missing a lot more than defensemen and forwards firing past the net than Lightning defensemen.

Position Team  SF On/60  MF On/60  BF On/60
Defense DAL 18.69 21.71 1.35
Defense T.B 13.69 14.78 12.53
Defense NHLAv 36.65 15.98 2.47
Forward DAL 22.48 15.13 1.49
Forward T.B 21.58 21.78 3.43
Forward NHLAv 34.18 15.94 3.99

There’s a possible shot quality argument that can be made at 5v4, exemplified by Tampa Bay, while Lightning writer, Kyle Alexander, makes a salient point of the Lightning’s power play.

That chart in the link indicates that power play shooting percentages can be heavily influenced by ‘luck’ – a term I’m not apt to use without an explanation that ‘luck’ is more about the repeatability of a skillset to achieve similar results rather than pucks bouncing off of player’s asses into the gaping net.

More power play analysis is going to come down this pipeline.

Stats via Hockey Analysis and Behind The Net


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