About 20 minutes prior to each morning skate, you’ll find 10 to 12 players, a goaltender or two and the coaches on the ice for the Carolina Hurricanes.
It’s power play practice, putting into action what has been drawn up on the white board, something head coach Kirk Muller believes is vitally important. This has become a gameday routine, and the team is beginning to see it pay dividends on a regular basis.
“If you want to use the football mentality, it’s preparing for each team,” Muller said. “We kind of dissect the penalty kill, and I find that we have to adapt. If you run the same plays, people scout you, they know what you’re doing and it’s difficult. I think we have to be creative each night, and see the way each team kills penalties and then we adapt.”
Before Saturday, the Hurricanes had scored a power play goal in five straight games (6-for-19 in that stretch) and six straight games at home; their 0-for-2 showing against Tampa Bay snapped those streaks. In that stretch, they faced penalty kills ranked as high as sixth (New York) and as low as 25th (Tampa Bay).
In their last 11 games at the RBC Center, the Canes are 10-for-33 on the power play (30.3%). The team hasn’t had the same success on the road lately, going just 2-for-17 in their last five games away from Raleigh. But, since Jan. 1 (25 games), the Canes’ power play has scored 17 goals and has converted at 23.9 percent (17-for-71).
Statistically speaking, the team is doing something right. Those gameday power play sessions likely play a big factor.
“I don’t think we change a whole lot. We might focus on certain options depending on the team we’re playing, their penalty kill style, what opens up and what we think will work,” Tim Brent
said. “The bigger changes are on the breakout and trying to figure out how we can get into their zone with control. Those are the changes we usually make.”
Brent has been a key cog in the team’s recent man-advantage success. Muller has employed Brent as the quarterback of the first unit, putting him on the point alongside rookie defenseman Justin Faulk
. It’s a job that Brent is not unfamiliar with. When Tomas Kaberle was traded from Toronto to Boston last year, Brent saw time on the point. He also played that position in the minors, as well.
A fourth-line center, Brent sees enhanced minutes from his role on the power play. On the average night, Brent will see between seven and nine minutes of even-strength ice time, but playing on the first unit earns him a few extra minutes, depending on the night. (Against Tampa Bay on Saturday, Brent had 7:59 of even-strength time and 2:55 on the power play.)
“In previous years, our mindset on the power play from a point perspective is to try and shoot the puck,” he said. “Here, if the shot’s there, I’m going to take it, but I’m more trying to be poised with it, trying to slow things down and make sure we get set up and run through our options.”
The Canes' current power play formation resembles that of an umbrella set-up, where Brent is positioned at the point, setting up Faulk and his right-side winger for shots. Two guys are then down low battling for position and swinging behind the net, as needed.
) and Jaroslav Spacek
) have recently scored on a set play where they will slide down from the point for a one-timer off a cross-crease feed from a forward. That play has since been well-scouted. Faulk tried it again against Nashville on Feb. 28, but the penalty kill was ready for it and broke it up.
The Canes have also scored some ugly power play goals. Brent got one in that same Nashville game, as he poked in a loose puck in a crease scrum. Either way, the goals count the same.
“We have a list of options that we have at our disposal as far as plays,” Brent said. “It’s a matter of executing the right ones. You’ve got the man advantage, so there has to be somebody open. It’s just a matter of making the right plays to make sure the puck gets to that guy.”
Using four forwards on the power play can be a double-edged sword. You get the extra offensive push at the risk of giving up an odd-man rush with just one defenseman going the other way. The Canes, though, have avoided that, and puck possession plays a big factor in why.
“You want to shoot the puck and get as many opportunities as you can, but I think we’ve been able to not rush that shot process,” Brent said. “I know this from a penalty kill standpoint: when your in your zone for 30-40 seconds and you get the puck, the last thing you’re worried about is trying to make a rush down the ice. So, I think that’s probably a big reason as to why we’ve prevented that. We’ve done a good job hanging onto the puck and tiring out their penalty killers, so if they do get the puck, they just dump it down and change.”
That’s a power play strategy that will work, no matter what team they’re facing.