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Wing Wednesday: The key elements of the in-zone power play
What Detroit is tasked with and how it approaches the in-zone execution on the man advantage.
Last week, in the initial Wing Wednesday, we explored zone entries on the Detroit Red Wings power play.
Zone entries are often the foundation power play success is built on. If you can’t get into the offensive zone with the man advantage, how are you going to find the back of the net?
You should really read that post before this one and you can click the link below to do so.
If you have read that story already, or just returned to this point after clicking on that link and quickly reading the other one, you’ll remember the Red Wings entry is built on simple guiding principals, which head coach Derek Lalonde considers his “non-negotiable elements.”
Break out together
Finish your routes together
Everything else within the Red Wings power play entry can be boiled down to those two main tenets. Using guiding principles creates a foundation to build on and makes it simpler to install a system as a coach.
There’s similar guiding factors within the offensive zone, although the list is a bit longer, and more nuanced considering the end goal of a zone entry is to enter the zone, the end goal of in-zone play is to score a goal — there is a higher degree of difficulty here.
Let’s start with what Lalonde calls “face-off ready,” or an attitude of winning control of the puck even if you technically lost the draw.
It starts with the Detroit center helping turn the 5-on-4 into a momentary 4-on-3. The center, on a lost draw, is going to “bull” the center effectively prevent the opposing center from getting to his assigned defensive spot. It’s technically interference, just like the Red Wings technically commit interference frequently on zone entries by setting picks, but officials rarely, if ever, call it so it becomes part of the arsenal.
Look at this clip from a game against the Carolina Hurricanes, focus on the Detroit player taking the face-off, Andrew Copp, who does his job to make sure the Carolina center can’t play cleanly out of the circle.
Even on won draws, the center works on delaying the opposing center. Watch Dylan Larkin on this play, and how he effectively is playing man coverage on the Buffalo Sabres forward to take off any route to the point.
While it typically doesn’t get called, the approach comes with some risk of a penalty. And if an official has worked a handful of Detroit games before, that risk goes up.
For example, in this game against Pittsburgh, the official making the call Graham Skilliter, was working his fifth Detroit game of the season. (Ref stats courtesy of ScoutingTheRefs.)
So that’s face-offs, let’s move to some of the other in-zone tendencies and habits that the Red Wings preach internally.
For Lalonde, who presented about this at the coaching camp I attended back in June, there are four guiding principles, similar to the two guiding principles on entries.
Loose puck retrievals
Getting the penalty kill box moving
By this mindset there are no bad shots on the power play. A shot on net can lead to something more, at worst case scenario it’s frozen by the goalie, and that just creates another opportunity to win the face-off and sustain pressure — and perhaps possession — 200 feet from Detroit’s net.
The second ideology, loose puck retrievals, is pretty simple. Win the loose pucks. That’s it.
For a more nuanced take, consider that while on the power play a team should always be able 2-on-1 a loose puck against a penalty killer. If two penalty killers go into the scrum, you can 3-on-2 them. It just creates extra space off the potential loose puck win for the remaining power play options.
This screen grab from a game against the Tampa Bay Lighting shows the potential of this ideology.
Below the net the Red Wigs have 3-on-2ed the puck battle against Tampa (the oval below the goal line). If Detroit wins this battle, the high man has acres of space to create a clean look.
As for the bumper support, that’s a reference to the center of the 1-3-1 power play and a call for that position to be played with fluidity. Because of how much fluidity the bumper player has the Red Wings 1-3-1 can often look like and be mislabeled as a 2-3 umbrella, a mistake I’ve made a couple times myself.
(Side note: mistakes are always possible in film room. I’m always learning myself and want to better understand the game, so if something is amiss to you, please reach out to me and let me know. I once had an NHL coach reach out to me about something after I mis-read a situation in a film room. It’s ok to make mistakes, just embrace them and learn from it. So, yes, this is a call to please tell me I’m wrong when I’m wrong.)
The bumper’s role in the Detroit power play is to relieve pressure, shifting in and out to create gaps and soft areas for teammates.
Here’s an example from a game against the Penguins where Larkin plays that role, and ends up with a shot on the play as well.
Even with more aggressive penalty kills, the base of shorthanded play is still built from the box for four defenders trying to create wall that both takes away shots and allows their goalie to see the puck at all times. Sometimes it might look like a diamond, but diamonds just happened to be boxes standing up on one side.
For the Detroit power play, the ideology is to create chaos through passing and getting the PK box moving. The best penalty killers are the ones that get to remain stationary, when they have to move side-to-side frequently, more gaps open up.
Here’s an example that leads to a grade-A chance for Alex Chiasson against the Hurricanes. I let the clip run a bit longer, because it also features a puck retrieval and second shot.
For a look at chaos created by moving the box, and an actual goal, here’s a power play goal against the Buffalo Sabres that is pieced together through Buffalo penalty killers that had had been forced to go side-to-side earlier.
Because of offseason moves, Detroit’s power play could look slightly different this season. Alex DeBrincat, for example had 40 points on the power play last season with Ottawa and likes to operate as a downhill shoot-pass option from this position.
But even with some personnel change and some other tendencies worked in the, Red Wings power play will be built on Lalonde’s core principals.
(Editor’s note: this type of story will typically be for paid subscribers only. But this week with the film/breakdowns I’m keeping them open for those on the fence to give the coverage a try. Thanks again for your support.)