Let’s Talk About The Power Play

The Calgary Flames have been one of the NHL’s worst possession teams this season. Whether you want to look at shots, Corsi, Corsi Close, Fenwick, Fenwick Close or any other metric, the Calgary Flames are not super amazing at puck possession.

As a result, Calgary’s special teams are going to be crucially important for the team to continue to have success, particularly if the club makes the post-season.

So let’s talk about the power-play!

WHO’S ON IT?

The Flames operate primarily with two power-play units. Presently, the two main units are as follows:

  • Mason Raymond, Mikael Backlund, David Jones, Raphael Diaz and Mark Giordano
  • Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Jiri Hudler, Dennis Wideman and T.J. Brodie

Bob Hartley staffs his power-play units with offensive players, but he also has a tendency to put guys that are struggling offensively on the PP to get them going. You’re more likely to get puck touches on the power-play and better offensive looks, and there’s a line of thinking that those experiences will build confidence and momentum at 5-on-5. Devin Setoguchi, Markus Granlund and others have seen ice time as a result, as have guys like Curtis Glencross, Josh Jooris and Joe Colborne.

The Flames also like to have a mix of left and right shots on the power-play. Kris Russell recently was cycled off the power-play to make room for Diaz, who fits both the right-handed and “guy who needs to get going offensively” descriptions. But even with Diaz on the top unit, the Flames are very heavy on lefties.

WHAT’S THE STRATEGY?

Providing they can enter the zone and set up shop, the Flames primarily operate an umbrella power-play.

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One forward stands in the slot. The other forwards rotate onto the side boards to open up outside passing lanes. The two defenders rotate around on the point.

The general strategy is thus: passes along the outside of the zone to create traffic and screens in front of the goalie. This usually results in one of two kinds of shots:

  • Point shots from the very top of the “key” (e.g., just inside the blueline near the middle of the ice) through the maximum amount of bodies, both Flames and opponent. The idea here is the goalie can’t see what’s coming…or the puck glances off an ankle or two and creates a rebound chance.
  • Shots from the far edges of the ice (e.g., the edge of the face-off circles) that, because of angles, get kicked out by the goalie into the slot or far side of the ice and create rebound chances.

The idea is, either way, to use movement and bodies to create screens and confusion on initial shots, then crash the net for rebounds.

DOES IT WORK?

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Sometimes.

The biggest problem with the Flames is that they don’t have much in the way of elite offensive talent. Well, not yet.

So they make do with what they have. Pittsburgh and Chicago have excellent power-plays that rely on puck movement to create space for their talented players to work. Calgary doesn’t have a lot of high-end talent, so one could argue that even if they had high-end talent, it’d be kind of a waste to use puck movement to create that space.

So the club is tailoring their strategy to what they have to work with.

The downside is the team is shooting pucks (a) through traffic that is by-design or (b) from wide angles to create rebounds. That means they’re purposefully taking low-percentage initial chances because they think they can fight their way to the high-percentage rebounds.

The Flames have scored 31 power-play goals this season (17th in the NHL) in 179 opportunities (9th in the NHL), scoring on 17.3% of their chances (22nd in the NHL). So…they’re doing okay, but compared to the league average they’re punching below their weight a bit.

But all things considered, the strategy probably isn’t the worst one they could be using.

  • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

    Don’t know about you, but I was really impressed by last night’s win. Despite playing a solid, competitive Sharks squad, the Flames were never outclassed, handled opposition pressure well, and showed once again that they’re a third-period team.

    The power play? What a great tic-tac-toe play to score a goal. An elite play, even if the talent hasn’t yet been labelled as such.

    Puck posession? They’re paying more attention to that. Monahan in particular refused to dump the puck on line changes.

    Nothing’s for certain yet. But if the Flames play the rest of the season like they played last night, they’re into the show.

    This shows the limitation of statistics. The Flames are well-coached and playing like a playoff team. They’re a young team that’s constantly improving. That’s not just puck luck. Since there isn’t an advanced stat for what the Flames are doing, let’s just call it the “intangibles”.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    ummmmm….. did anyone see the Adirondack score tonight? 10-0 over Syracuse. That’s right… ten goals. Sven Baertschi with the hat trick.

    edit: oh… and T-spoon was +5 with 2 assists.

  • beloch

    Something interesting to point out is that the Flames are #5 in the league in terms of power play opportunities. This team draws a lot of penalties. That’s why they’re tied for sixteenth in terms of power play goals despite being #21 in PP%. The Flames should therefore be strongly motivated to improve their powerplay.

  • beloch

    Completely unrelated but I just watched an interview with Guy Gaudreau on FlamesTV. He made some interesting comments, particularly, about how he and his wife would still prefer that Johnny to be at college, though he understands why it was the right time for Johnny to move on.

    I know there were fears among FlamesFan that Johnny might pull a Justin Shultz a couple years back (if not a year ago) but after hearing his father speak, you can certainly tell that his parents have a great set of heads on their shoulders. It thus bodes well that some of that common sense/strong value set has been certainly imparted on to Johnny.

  • Burnward

    Hey there analytic minds. Need some help.

    Was playing around on war-on-ice and there’s a Corsi section there called CP60 that has Calgary in the top half of the league when you account for all situations.

    Am I reading this wrong, or is that actually a sum of Corsi chances throughout an entire game and not just 5 on 5?

    There’s a huge randomness to the order of teams with that and I’m confused as to what exactly it means.

    • beloch

      From the looks of it, CP60 = CF60 + CA60 (corsi events for + corsi events against per 60 minutes). All a high CP60 really means is that Flames games are “high event”. If you look more closely at the war-on-ice site, you can select the situation to view (default view is even strength). Unfortunately for the Flames, whether it’s even strength or all situations, they’re near the bottom of the league in CF60 (that’s bad) and near the top of the league in CA60 (also bad).

      The good news is that the Flames have improved over the course of the season and their recent games are dragged down by the earlier ones and that skid in December. For whatever reason, the Flames were freakin’ horrible in December and deserved to lose eight straight. Since pulling out of that skid, their rolling 10 game average CF% (all situations) has been consistently above 50% (that’s good).

      I don’t know what went wrong in December, but that’s a month the Flames need to avoid repeating if they want to make the playoffs.

  • Section205

    Flames take very few penalties and enjoy 103 minutes of xtra man advantage and 100+ shot on goal advantage on special teams. This makes up for most of our shot on goal differential 5on5

    But they’re 23rd in PP shot% and 28th in PK save%. Special teams PDO 93.8. Could have another +10 goal differential if PDO were 100.

    5on5 PDO is 101.1, and all the talk about Flames riding high percentages! Flames might not have scored 13 goals if PDO were 100.

    It’s a wash. Any assumption that 5on5 PDO regresses to 100 should be offset with an assumption that special teams PDO does the same.

    I’d love these young guys to be 54% corsi over and above all that… who wouldn’t? Give it a year or two. But in the meantime I am happy that special teams makes up for the shot differential at 5on5.

    Over the full 60 minute game (or 65) the Flames hold their own in SOG. And they are pretty much full value for their +19 goal differential to date.

  • Burnward

    Hey Ryan, I asked this the other day and was interested to know the answer. Hope you can help me out.

    Do empty net goals count when shooting percentage is factored in?

    It came in response to that third period comparison piece on PDO. Just trying to get a handle on what I’m looking at better.

    • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

      Yes it does. A shot on goal. Is a shot on goal.

      You know what doesn’t affect shooting percentage? A shot not judged to be a shot ON goal. This of course has an effect on the PDO stat, as it is based on shooting percentage. I would be far more interested in a shooting percentage based on goals scored per actual shots attempted. This would be far more useful.

      • Burnward

        Well, that’s what I was thinking. My thought was: if you remove the empty net goals Calgary has scored, what does that do to their PDO?

        Just pondering if the difference is something as minute as that.

        • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

          I think it’s as simple as that the coaching staff has instituted a game plan predicated on looking for quality shots on the offensive end and letting their opponents take harmless shots from the outside in the defensive end.

          Otherwise known as playing smart hockey.

          Also otherwise known as winning hockey.

  • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

    How does shot attempts measure possession?
    I am so tired of this “metric”.
    If you new stats guys had been around in the 80’s you would have told us that the Soviets were getting dominated possession wise, because we attempted so many more shots than them.
    See the point I’m making?
    Shove corsi where the sun don’t shine, because that’s all it’s worth.