Dallas is currently ranked 5th on the Power Play. Sounds like everything's rainbow roads and gumdrop smiles, right? Well, not really. As Erin pointed out, the month of January has not been kind to the Power Play.
As I discussed with the Penalty Kill, Dallas has a personnel problem, in addition to other issues. However, there is no personnel problem when it comes to the Power Play. Perhaps that explains why the PP is still in good shape, all things considered.
So why the slumpage? First let's talk tactics. The Power Play, just like the Penalty Kill, comes down to spatial awareness and adjustment. Whether you're up a man, or down a man, you need both. But where the PK comes down to expanding the chosen formation, the PP is all about shrinking the chosen formation.
There are plenty of ways to do this. You can make snow angels with the umbrella, trying to score from the point, and punish PK'ers in the high slot. You can spread (2-1-2), layering the slot like syrup on a PK pancake. You can do what everyone does, which is follow Europe's lead and set up in the 1-3-1 formation like below, or you can do what nobody does, which is overload. A tactic as fashionable as Kevin Smith's jorts.
Ever the crowd follower, here's Dallas about to make excellent use of the 1-3-1. If we want to know what has gone wrong for Dallas, let's talk about what has gone right.
Right now Tyler Seguin has the puck just above the half wall with Montreal trying to defend with the wedge defense. Eventually Patrick Sharp splits the two Canadien players in the slot and then this happens. It's a great sequence between Seguin and Sharp. But a lot of praise belongs to Spezza who started this play off with a successful zone entry.
The other thing to note is that this goal comes off a deflection. Deflections aren't frequent, but they're high percentage plays. A deflection, after all, is functionally a shot in the sweet spot, just close enough to sniff Brett Hull's skate. Arik Parnass over at Special Teams put together a handy graph showing the success rate of shot types on the Power Play:
That's the good news. Dallas is 7th in the league in shot totals on the Power Play. And that's despite being 16th in the league in Power Play TOI. Obviously, the more shots, the more likely you are to vary shot types (this chart probably explains why Vernon Fiddler gets the odd share of Power Play time with his sinister backhand).
Now for the bad news. Their current inefficiency has nothing to do with the drop pass.
I know this is a hot button issue among fans. But instead of lamenting it just because we can distinctly remember John Klingberg's gaffe against Colorado, let's talk about why most teams do it in the first place. Again, cribbing from Parnass' work:
I like the play in theory because it accomplishes one of the big goals of a breakout, which is to approach the line with speed - the receiver of a success drop pass has gained speed leading up to his reception of the puck - while freezing the defenders, who have been approaching the entry as though they need to close down and gain an angle on F1, only to see the puck dropped back and the dynamic change completely.
Despite that, zone entries seem to be kind of problematic. But not because of the drop pass. But because the 1st unit is doing all of the controlled entrying.
I decided to look at all of the Power Play action in four randomly chosen games (Montreal, New York Rangers, St. Louis, and New Jersey). Well, two from games where the PP scored, and two where it did not.
Granted, distinguishing first and second unit power plays can be problematic. But for the most part, Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp, and John Klingberg have been mainstays. The 2nd unit is basically just goulash. But Alex Goligoski and Jason Demers typically man the point with some mixture of the bottom six forwards.
It's a little unfair to attack the 2nd unit. After all, it gets a lot less time on ice with less shooting talent. But it needs to be decent enough to pressure. In the four games I looked at, the first unit successfully enters the zone with possession at a rate of 72 percent. This was out of 29 entries. The 2nd unit managed just 6 total entries with possession. They do love to dump it in. At a rate of 33 percent. These dump ins sometimes end up with possession of the puck, but they also end up 50/50 board battles that see them lose possession too.
Anyway, with the first unit getting so much ice time, the problems start and end with them. Here's what I mean when I talk about "impatience".
Here's Seguin manning the wall with Klingberg on the left point, Spezza on the right (out of the picture), with Benn near the trapezoid. As one of our readers noted in an excellent breakdown of Dallas' power play problems last year, 'view the attack as four 2-on-1s and a 1-on-0, not as a 5-on-4'.
Seguin has a number of options. Again, the key is 'confusing the wind'; get the PK to expand when it shouldn't, or retract when it shouldn't. Seguin can do this by holding on to the puck some more. Nobody's pressuring him. And he has a pass to Benn that both players can cycle if need be. Passing to Klingberg isn't much of an option, as Jersey's high forechecker has pretty good position to intercept. Both scenarios require movement, however.
And Seguin opts for his worst option, which is Sharp, who has three Devils surrounding him. In case you're wondering, this play is easily broken up, and cleared out of the zone. Lack of movement, lazy setup, and passing to the one outmanned player on the PP will fail 100 percent of the time.
It's not just that but while Dallas has done a much better job from last year of entering the zone, they've been panicking to get shots to the net ever since it started slumping. As Erin noted, Dallas' scoring chances throughout January have dropped from 1.9 to 1.3. Here's how scoring chances drop:
Dallas is in the zone with Patrick Sharp on the point. Jamie Benn isn't an option but Klingberg might be. Either way there's no reason for a pass to be made at this point. Sharp isn't under serious pressure. Now, as you'll see in the next pic, there's nothing fundamentally wrong with hitting Seguin and Spezza who are out of the picture. But there should never be this much space within the PP unit. The more ice you have to cover, the longer it takes a player to receive the pass, and the more time a goalie has to adjust along with the PK unit. This pass gets tipped.
Spezza has to hustle to retrieve the puck in the corners allowing the PK unit to bear down on Spezza and Seguin. Spezza gets outmanned on this play. Because Spezza's so good, he snaggles the puck, but has to hurry the pass to Klingberg who fumbles it for an offside. If you're wondering what formation you're looking at, then feel free to spin the wheel. What I'm seeing in games where Dallas' Power Play faulters is a lack of formation, like above.
Formations are paramount because they readily identify each player's role. With defined roles come defined adjustments. Because everybody knows where they need to be.
Without it, miscommunication happens. And broken plays tend to be the result of miscommunication. Part of this is happening because Dallas is rushing shots to the point, taking blasts from the point, or from the perimeter. A good setup needs to create odd man scenarios and you're not seeing any of this here. With the extra man, somebody should be trapped. Either a man in the slot, at the point, in the crease, et cetera. Movement is the key. And there's not much movement.
In addition, 42 percent of Jamie Benn's goals are on the power play. If it's not going, then Benn is struggling on that front. Personally I think the first unit is fine. If you replace Klingberg with Demers (as Dallas has done) on the 1st unit, I wouldn't mind seeing a 2nd unit of Valeri Nichushkin-Mattias Janmark-Ales Hemsky-Alex Goligoski-Klingberg. You could up his play at even strength while retaining a second unit that keeps the opposing PK's hemmed in their own zone. Every second counts. When an opponent clears the zone, the power play reset typically takes between 13-15 seconds. If the 2nd unit isn't even a factor, then the struggles of the 1st unit will be magnified, and so will opposing team's ability to prepare and counter. Luckily for Dallas, they've got time to figure things out with some of the more dangerous shooters in the game.