Hockey 2.0: Gaining The Zone On The Powerplay
Darryl Sutter’s comment that the “powerplay has been awful” struck a chord with me today. I don’t agree with him. The powerplay is awful and has been inconsistent. One of the biggest culprits has been our zone entry.
The purpose of any zone entry is to gain and maintain possession. The L.A. Kings have been abysmal at both. Let’s take a look. The purple represents the players. The black represents the puck.
This is the most common zone entry the L.A. Kings use that isn’t a dump in. The first forward (F1) enters the zone and reverses the puck to the first defenseman who then sets up the powerplay. This zone entry works well if the defensive forward on that same side (strong side) collapses down low. This zone entry doesn’t work well if he does not or the defense has read the reverse and takes away the pass along the boards. The L.A. Kings problem is they go to this reverse too often and don’t “read” the defensive coverage. I have wondered if this is a carry over from the Terry Murray era of the low to high pass along the boards and that Pavlov-like response that pervaded Murray’s tenure to nearly every zone entry.
Let’s take a look at a dump in on the powerplay
Notice all three forwards rush the puck? A dump in on the powerplay will be inconsistent absent a focused 3 man attack to the puck immediately upon the dump. It’s a 3 man chase or it’s a failure. That is because the penalty killing team will, almost without exception, send three players to the puck to gain possession and keep us from doing so. If we send in the F1 and F2 and keep the F3 at the dots or along the boards to receive the pass, we will get out numbered down low. At that point, we are at the mercy of the penalty killer’s attempt to clear the puck and must rely on our D1 or D2 to stop the clearing attempt at the blue line or hope the PK sends the puck onto one of our attacking forwards’ sticks. See the problem? It breeds inconsistency. Is a three-man forecheck aggressive? Of course. But a powerplay must be exactly that to be effective. There is only one goal with the man advantage and that is to score a goal. It isn’t to play defense.
Third up comes what the better NHL teams do on the powerplay when the opportunity arises.
It’s not as simple as it looks and it’s not always a simple cross ice pass. The F1 can cut to the center, pass it back to the D1 or even reverse it before the puck goes cross ice to the F3. The F1 can fake the shot with the F2 providing the drive & distraction to the net to cause the penalty killers to collapse before he sends the puck cross ice. No matter how he does it and so long as he does it before the penalty killers set up, this zone entry forces an overloading penalty killing unit that is aggressive and attempts to gain puck possession to suddenly end up on the wrong side of their zone. The L.A. Kings simply do not attempt the cross ice pass enough. They rely far too much on the reverse or dump in, both of which rely on, to some extent, good fortune along the boards while this zone entry relies on deception and skillful passing.