This off-season, one of the more interesting changes the Calgary Flames made wasn’t on the ice but rather on the bench. Darryl Sutter went out and recruited long-time NHL forward Kirk Muller, now a coach, as associate coach.
With one of Muller’s key duties (both with the Flames and in prior stops) being running the power play, let’s take a look back at prior Muller PP performances to see what can be expected.
(Player usage data from Natural Stat Trick and Dobber Hockey. Performance data from Natural Stat Trick.)
Muller ran the Blues’ power play for two seasons: 2014-15 and 2015-16.
In 2014-15, the Blues had two primary units: one with four forwards (and one defender) and the other with three forwards (and two defenders). Their top unit had David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Paul Stastny, Alex Steen and Kevin Shattenkirk. On a per-60-minute basis, the Blues PP generated 6.86 expected goals (12th in the NHL) and was third in the league in terms of shots generated per 60 minutes of PP time.
In 2015-16, the Blues stayed with the same two unit structure. But the second unit was a bit more variable: Backes, Steen, Shattenkirk, Vladimir Tarasenko, and one of Stastny or Jiri Lehtera. Their production dipped to 5.20 expected goals per 60 (29th in the NHL) and they slid to 30th in shots generated per 60 minutes of PP time.
St. Louis changed up their coaching staff in the 2016 off-season. Muller was out, but landed in Montreal as an associate coach.
In 2016-17, the Habs went with two PP units with three forwards and two defenders. Their top unit was usually Alex Galchenyuk, Alexander Radulov, Andrew Shaw, Andrei Markov and Shea Weber. On a per-60-minutes basis they generated 4.83 expected goals, 30th in the NHL, and they were also 30th in shots on goal.
But the Habs were willing to get creative.
Habs did do the Flying V last night, not once, but *three* times in a row. Failed the first, got an entry, third one worked! pic.twitter.com/j1Zvu0Y2eY
— Olivier Bouchard (@oli_bou) January 25, 2017
In 2017-18, the Habs reverted to the now-typical NHL standard of four forwards and a blueliner for both units. Their primary unit was Jonathan Drouin, Brendan Gallagher, Max Pacioretty, Jeff Petry and Galchenyuk. They generated 8.07 expected goals per 60 minutes (fifth in the NHL) and were second in shots per 60 minutes.
In 2018-19, the Habs kept the same structure. Their primary unit was Max Domi, Tomas Tatar, Gallagher, Drouin and Petry. Their performance dropped to 5.23 expected goals per 60 minutes (30th in the NHL) and their shots per 60 minutes dropped to 31st.
In 2019-20, the set-up remained the same. Their primary unit was Philip Danault, Nick Suzuki, Gallagher, Tatar and Petry. The results remained… iffy. They were 26th in expected goals per 60 minutes at 5.64, and their shots per 60 was 24th league-wide.
Muller was part of a coaching changeover midway through the 2020-21 season.
Broadly-speaking, some things Muller is known for should help the Flames. Remember the “bump-back” zone entry? Almost always to Johnny Gaudreau, so penalty kills just hang out and wait for his entrance at the offensive blueline? Well, that’s been de-emphasized!
On Monday, the Flames used a wacky zone entry: Rasmus Andersson passed the puck to a forward just as four forwards were skating towards the blueline at once. The Ducks had no clue which player was going to get the puck and they had to scramble after the entry – if the pass had gone awry, it would’ve been off-side and a neutral zone face-off, so the risk was relatively low for the Flames to try something wacky.
The power play units that Muller had success with had two things: right shot options and tons of shot volume. On shot volume, there appears to be a pretty clean correlation between tons of shots and a high level of expected goals when you look at Muller’s previous stops. Volume doesn’t always mean quality, but usually tons of puck movement and shot volume creates (a) chaos and (b) secondary scoring chances, which could be music to the ears of net-front players Matthew Tkachuk and Milan Lucic.
As for right shot options, here are the PP units the Flames used on Monday against Anaheim:
- Power Play 1: Gaudreau-Monahan-Tkachuk-Lindholm-Andersson
- Power Play 2: Backlund-Lucic-Mangiapane-Dube-Hanifin
The top unit has two right shots and the second unit has zero. The right shot players who weren’t used on either unit were defensemen Erik Gudbranson and Chris Tanev, and forwards Glenn Gawdin, Trevor Lewis and Brett Ritchie. All due respect to the gentlemen, but you can understand why they weren’t used.
The downside of not having right shot options is teams lose the ability to get faster one-timers off on cross-zone passes, as lefties have to accept the pass and pivot rather than just fire off quick shots. It’s more of a limitation of the lineup than of Muller’s set-up, but it’s something the Flames will need to work around. (Maybe eventually Hanifin and Andersson swap units so at least there’s one rightie on the second group.)
Does Muller’s success running the power plays in his previous stops give you any confidence? Do the Flames have a strong enough roster to execute a strong power play? Sound off in the comments!