32 Years of Power Play Frustration
My first season of coaching was the 1988-89 season. We didn’t fair very well that year. We were last in our league but managed to win our share of games at tournaments and in exhibition games. A few teams in our league had future NHL players on them so it was tough slogging at times. We used to set a VCR up in the corner of the rink to video tape games. Our manager charted shots and we kept all the usual statistics.
This will date me but, that season I purchased my first computer. It came from Radio Shack (it was a Tandy computer) and had no hard drive. You would turn the power on with a floppy boot disk in the drive to load the operating system, then put in your application disk (spreadsheets, word processing) to run a program. Software cost a lot so, finding a copy of Lotus 1-2-3 (the old version of Excel) wasn’t easy or cheap. Using the computer to do statistics at the time wasn’t extremely helpful. But, paper, pen and calculator still did the job.
Here is my problem: in 32 seasons behind a hockey bench, I have never been happy with the power play. This season might have been the metaphor for all of my years of frustration.
Now, I come from a “give and go” out of the corner playing background that added in a little “D take the puck to the middle” added in. Shot from the point with a good screen and second chance should just about do it. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to cut it these days - mostly because the goalies have become so much better since the 1980’s. As a coach, my philosophical goal on the power play is to get three good chances to score in 2 minutes.
This past season pretty much sums up my power play frustrations. This will most certainly be more of a reporting than a “position paper”. Maybe I just need to get some frustration out. (A couple of notes: 1) I coach a good Prep school hockey team (Midget AAA level) and 2) we practice the power play regularly…but not every practice.)
We began the season with something new - the Trapezoid Power Play. It seemed like a system that would be novel, fun, different and could create some goals for us. But, much like anything that doesn’t “feel normal” to players, they couldn’t quite wrap their head around three players starting across the blue line. We were scoring at a 25% clip through the first quarter of the season (10/40) but, it was purely because of talent (and some weaker competition), not because of the great power play set up we were using (or more to the point, not using!).
About 12 games into the season, we moved to a standard 1-3-1 power play. Players felt much more “comfortable” with this, so it would have seemed that we would find a way to be more successful. We managed to hit a respectable 22.5% (9/40) in the second quarter of the season but, to be fair, we exploded for 5 of those goals in two games back to back against weaker competition and again, there seemed to be no semblance of trying to set anything up or working towards creating good scoring chances. At this point, although our statistics were not horrible (in fact pretty good!), no one felt we were doing a very good job when we had a man advantage - and it was starting to take its toll on our positivity on the bench. ( A quick fun fact: At the halfway point in the season, we had scored 19 goals with a man advantage and we had scored 15 goals while we were short-handed.
The first five games in the third quarter of the season saw us go on an 0 for 18 power play “skid” which took us into our Christmas break. Of course, the frustration was increasing (my fourth line players were grumbling that they weren’t getting a chance on the PP!). There was simply too much “freelancing” and not enough focused team play. No one was “in sync” and it was showing in the loss column and on the stat sheet.
So, we returned from break with a new approach to the power play. We were going to work hard in practice on uneven man situations. Things like 2v1 out of the corners, 3v2 on one side of the offensive zone, 2v1/3v2/4v3 small area games. We would practice finding ways to create offensive 2v1’s inside of our drills, find ways to create give and go’s and scoring chances. If our players wanted to freelance, we were going to support that in our practices.
And…We went 2 for 24 in our next seven games. More of the same ineffectiveness and we finished the third quarter of the season at 4.8% (2/42) with a man advantage. It was very discouraging. But, it might have been a catalyst for what came next.
After returning from a horrible road trip in Pittsburgh, the team did some soul searching in a few player led team meetings and decided it was time, with 42 days left in the season, to be the coachable team it could be. Our team leaders met with the coaching staff to declare the team was ready to do what was necessary to be the team that we all knew we could be. Part of that was to go back to the 1-3-1 power play set up and they guaranteed that they would focus on doing it the way it was being taught. With that, through the playoffs and a tough back end of the schedule, we finished at 14.6% (6/41) on the power play in the last quarter of the season. Although we would have liked to get to the 20% range, the team felt good about these numbers and our play in general.
I suppose there are some lessons here. Being “on the same page” and “in sync” are important to special team success. Getting team and player “buy in” is important. Player ownership on special teams can go a long way. We talk about coachability a lot. Maybe the power play is the most important part of the coachability piece that needs to be put in place as soon as possible.
Note: I don’t keep a lot of statistics but, special teams is one area that we set goals and compare hard numbers. Our two goals this season: win the special team (ST) score each game (PPG+SHG-PPGA-SHGA) and keep the combined PP+PK percentage over 100%. Here are our stats from this season: