About a month ago I wrote about the Flames’ powerplay differential. In it, I spoke about how the Flames were excellent at drawing penalties while taking few on their own which was leading to them being up an advantaged player more often in games than their opponents. At the time, the Flames were second to Chicago in terms of their penalty differential and they now find themselves in first. As well, at the time of the article, the Flames were clicking at above 20% on the PP and since have dropped off a cliff.
One thing about the Flames PP that I find really peculiar, that they have done since the beginning of the year, is that they split up their offensive talent onto two units. They often have Gaudreau and Hudler centered by Jooris, Colborne or Granlund on one unit with Russell and Wideman on the point. The second unit often consists of Monahan, Giordano and Brodie. This has changed recently and they’ve put Gaudreau, Hudler and Monahan together but still run Giordano and Brodie on the other unit. It seems extremely strange that they would spread out the minimal offensive impact players they have onto two units.
I wanted to look into if good teams tend to stack their deck (use their most offensive players on the first unit) or not as well as other consistencies amongst good PP teams. To do this, I looked at the current #1 pp unit of every team and split up the 30 teams into good (top 10), average (middle 10) and poor (bottom 10) PP teams (as of January 25, 2015). In addition to whether or not a team stacks a deck or not, I also looked at whether or not a team use multiple centers, their best face-off man, a forward on the point,the calibre of forward on the point (if a forward was used) and whether a natural RW is used on the right side of the PP.
It’s important to note the calibre of offensive units between the good and poor PP teams is often quite different. St. Louis doesn’t stack their deck but put out Backes, Oshie, Stastny, Shattenkirk and Steen on their first unit a team where a team like Florida does stack their deck but features a line-up of Huberdeau, Bjugstad, Barkov, Campbell and Ekblad. Beyond offensive talent, better PP teams do a lot of subtle things that poor teams don’t.
First, 90% (9/10) good teams stack the deck on their 1st PP unit compared to 30% for both the mediocre and poor PP teams. The only team that doesn’t is St. Louis, ironically the best PP in the league. They, however, have enough talent that they can justify using Steen instead of Tarasenko. But generally speaking stacking the deck appears to be the way to go.
Second, good PP teams seem to use their centers strategically. Good PP teams, compared to mediocre and poor PP teams, tend to use multiple centers, use their best faceoff man and have a higher average faceoff % with the center used on the 1st unit. Why use multiple centers on a unit? The 1st center can cheat more and risk getting kicked out of the dot because of the back up center option. Why use your best faceoff man? Win more draws and start with the puck much more often than other teams.
Last, good teams are more likely to use a forward on the point of their PP. Furthermore, good PP teams that do use a forward on the point tend to use one of their best players on the point (e.g., Malkin, Datsyuk, Voracek) compared to mediocre/poor teams that are more likely to use a support player (e.g., Reilly, Burrows, Perreault).
WHAT SHOULD THE FLAMES DO?
With the information provided here, what should the Flames do about their abysmal powerplay? If it was me, I would absolutely stack all of the talent they have on the 1st unit. A combination of Gaudreau, Monahan, Hudler, Brodie and Giordano makes sense. If you’ve noticed, they’ve used this combination on rare occasion throughout the year and while they haven’t scored the chances generated have been nothing short of ample. If we factor in the center advantage seen by good PP teams, they might want to consider putting Backlund on the ice instead of Brodie and run a 1st unit of Backlund, Monahan, Hudler, Gaudreau and Giordano. If we assume that teams have better success if they have one of their better forwards play the point and QB the PP or serve as the one-time shot then moving Gaudreau or Hudler to the point makes sense. What to do with the 2nd unit? We can assume that they won’t score nearly as much as the 1st unit. Their job, essentially, should to be to not get scored on and chip in a goal every so often. I would put their best FO man on the ice (Stajan), in an attempt to start with the puck more often, their best remaining possession players (Byron, Brodie and Glencross) and Wideman’s shot.
What say you?