A few days ago we chronicled the issues of the Dallas Stars power play, a lesson in futility that had undoubtedly cost the Stars games in recent one-goal losses. One of the highest-scoring teams in the NHL shouldn't have such troubles with the man-advantage but this is an issue that has continued for well over three seasons now -- and the Stars are at least trying to find ways to fix it.
The overall philosophy of the Stars' power play is not going to change. We know they play an "umbrella" formation with the man-advantage -- especially on the top unit, with one player kept high and three lined up across the middle of the zone and one player low by the net.
What had been happening was, once set up, the player down low wasn't creating much of an issue in front of the net and the slow and deliberate puck movement wasn't doing much to open up passing or shooting lanes. As such, an edict of just "put the puck on net more" wasn't exactly working as intended, because there was no where for the puck to go.
The other issue was that once set up the power play became a one-at-a-time one-man-battle with the puck -- whoever had the puck would have to out-maneuver his defender to move the puck, with everyone else on the Stars watching and not moving.
On Thursday, the Stars made a few subtle changes within their power play formation and system that instantly led to success -- 2-for-2 on the power play to open the game in Ottawa.
Let's take a close look at the first goal for the Stars:
The Stars have just won the faceoff and start to get setup for the power play. Here, you can see Jamie Benn with the puck, and Seguin and Klingberg up top at the point and the Stars playing three across the middle. The Stars are about to completely shift the formation with one simple pass, which opens up the Senators perfectly for the play that follows.
Seguin starts to slide down through the middle, but here we see the flaw in the Stars system show itself -- to this point, Benn has held the puck for just under five seconds. He's waiting for the play to set up for the exchange, but this is where the Stars have struggled in the past -- holding on too long and not using movement to open lanes. The difference is this time it's by design.
Seguin's movement and Eaves going to the net collapses the Senators' PK, and opens up both Klingberg and Spezza up top.
As Seguin takes the puck, Benn immediately moves to the front of the net and Eaves sets up in the slot. The Stars are now in their "umbrella" with Klingberg up top, and Spezza at the point and able to slide down across the circles from Seguin. The movement has drawn two Senators to Seguin, who then quickly moves the puck to the point.
Klingberg then moves the puck across the Spezza...
Who has a wide open lane to the net to shoot the puck. The goal of this play is to create an odd-man situation in front of the net with Jamie Benn down low -- a change the Stars made on Wednesday in practice before this game. The idea is that if the Stars can at least get the puck through traffic, the player with some of the best hands in the NHL should be able to finish more down low around the net.
You can see as Spezza shoots the puck that any rebound that shoots out front has a good chance of getting to either Benn or Seguin, and the movement across the top has opened up an actually clean shooting lane for Spezza.
Unfortunately, the rebound goes straight onto the stick of Cody Ceci, who then kicks it into the corner.
Here is where the aggression on the power play is used perfectly. The Stars out-man the Senators as the puck heads to the boards, and Seguin's presence on the far circle keeps the Senators penalty kill spread out.
Benn ties up Ceci, Eaves moves the puck up the boards to Spezza...
Who then helps kick out the puck back to Klingberg at the point. At this point the Stars have out-maneuvered the Senators' penalty kill and have them reacting behind the puck -- the quick shot, the rebound and the fight on the boards has spread out the Sens' penalty kill unit and Klingberg has a wide-open pass to Jamie Benn, who then deftly out-waits the goaltender for the first goal of the game.
The Stars would follow that up with another power play goal, this time scored by Ales Hemsky and the second unit. This was another goal scored after a won-faceoff and with the power play unit actually setting up in the zone (the last three power play goals scored by the Stars were all off the rush), with player rotation and movement once again opening up a big shooting lane from the top of the circle.
Here's the video of the goal:
Sceviour starts with the puck at the point and then as Hemsky and Daley exchange the puck and move across the top of the zone, Sceviour rotates down low and through the traffic and vacates the lane just as Hemsky shoots.
Cycle the puck in one direction, move in the other.
The Stars philosophy and system didn't change, but the execution and overall plan of the Stars included just enough subtle changes to get two big power play goals in a game that was closer than the final score suggests. One game does not mean the power play is suddenly fixed, either -- on the lone other power play the Stars had on Thursday, the Senators had three separate short-handed chances.
However, this is a sign that adjustments have at least been made and for one night at least there was progress.