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Structure and talent key to power-play success

by John McGourty
The key to success in anything is to have a solid plan and people capable of executing it. It's no different with power plays, said Mike Green, the Washington Capitals defenseman who leads the NHL with 34 power-play points.

The Capitals, Southeast Division frontrunners all season, lead the League in points and power-play success. Their system works at home (26.6 percent) and away (25.7 percent). The Capitals lead the NHL with a 26.2-percent success rate with the man-advantage. They have the best home record and are tied for first in road wins with 21.

"It's definitely a combination (of talent and system). When we're successful, it is from our system but sometimes we can get lucky and score goals from our talent and skill," said Green. "We can't hang our hat on our skill. We have to stick to our foundation and our system and it is emphasized from Bruce (Boudreau, coach) how important it is. When we do that we are usually very successful."

Success on the power play can mean the difference between winning or losing a game, or even making the playoffs. The Canadiens rank second in the NHL with a 23.5-percent power-play success rate, but they are 24th in five-on-five scoring and have a negative goal differential, minus-18. They have scored 52 of their 187 goals, or 27.8 percent, on the power play and would be a non-contender without their power-play success.

"What makes our power play successful is our depth," Canadiens assistant coach Perry Pearn said. "We have two good units. You have to have talent to be successful. We don't have a 40-goal scorer but we have a lot of guys that are good at finishing. We have 12 players with power-play goals.

"We have missed Marc-Andre Bergeron and Mike Cammalleri, injured players who contribute big parts on our power play. We miss Bergeron's big shot. Most good power plays have the threat of someone at the point who can pound the puck at the net. When you have that, it opens up space and creates second and third opportunities.

"You see that with Anaheim, two big guns down front in Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf with a mobile defenseman, Scott Niedermayer, and a great shooter in Teemu Selanne. Their rotation off the 1-3-1 is a lot like Tampa's, but more mobile. Anaheim doesn't have a second unit that's as dangerous. That's one of our advantages. We don't have a first unit and a second unit, more like 1 and 1A. Whoever is hot starts the power play."

The top four power-play units this season -- Washington, Montreal, San Jose and Philadelphia -- all have a dozen players who have scored on power plays. Flyers assistant coach Joe Mullen said you won't see a lot of obvious variations in NHL power plays. It's the players' skills that make the difference, once the structure is accepted and executed by a cohesive unit.

"When you look at the penalty-killing units around the NHL, pretty much everybody does the same type of things, with a little twist here and there," Mullen said. "With today's video, there are no secrets what teams are doing. We watch a lot of video on every team to prepare and to understand their tendencies. Then we show our guys what to be aware of.

"On our power play, we're looking for good structure in the breakout and our entry into the offensive zone. That's key: You have to get in and get set up. We look for consistency, player movement, puck movement, getting shots through to the net and creating traffic in front of the net.

"As coaches, we prepare for the opponent and then help our players prepare, but they have to perform it. Talent always helps."

Getting players to believe in the coaching is key to power-play success. Alex Ovechkin, the two-time goal-scoring champion and League MVP, arguably is the NHL's best offensive player. But he's a believer in structure.

"We just have to play simple. That's all it is about," Ovechkin said. "We have to stick to the system and a simple game like we're supposed to do and it works."

"On our power play, we're looking for good structure in the breakout and our entry into the offensive zone. That's key: You have to get in and get set up. We look for consistency, player movement, puck movement, getting shots through to the net and creating traffic in front of the net."
-- Flyers assistant coach Joe Mullen

But Ovechkin is well aware of the impact talent has on a well-structured power play. Green leads the NHL with power-play points and 25 power-play assists. Center Nicklas Backstrom is tied for second with Ovechkin and three others with 33 power-play points. Brooks Laich, Backstrom and Ovechkin are tied for eighth with 11 power-play goals. Green, Backstrom and Ovechkin play on Washington's first power-play unit.

"They're very skilled guys," Ovechkin said. "They can control the puck and go get it in tough spots."

While the Flyers are very structured in that they look to set up in the offensive zone, Montreal and San Jose have success scoring on the rush, Washington allows Ovechkin to roam from his point spot while a forward covers his position, and San Jose benefits from Joe Thornton's ability to stickhandle through traffic in front of the net.

"Joe Thornton is a big, skilled player who has the ability to hold on to puck in traffic," Sharks assistant coach Matt Shaw said. "Some guys can't do that. We encourage Joe to do things using his abilities.

"We look to score off the rush and some teams don't."

"We score off the rush on power plays a fair amount," Pearn said. "We have two power-play centers in Scott Gomez and Tomas Plekanec. Plekanec is less likely to create off the rush and more likely from the end-zone setup. He sees the ice really well. One of Gomez's greatest talents is transporting the puck through the neutral zone. That creates the opportunity to drive the puck deep with possession. We've encouraged him to look for opportunities off the rush. Give Glen Metropolit (team-leading 10 power-play goals) credit -- he's a smart player inside the offensive blue line. He knows where to go and he's been good at finishing this year. I can remember three of his goals off the rush."

Metropolit, mostly a defensive player in his career, has blossomed on the power play with Gomez and Brian Gionta.

"We overload one side and use a rotation. It's dictated a little by the personnel because we don't have a lot of right-handed shots," Pearn said. "Glen is one so we modified the power play a bit because of that. Andrei Markov is a really good power-play quarterback, excellent at sliding in and out. We use him on the back side. That threat opens space for forwards on the overload side."

One of the biggest to success on the power play is having a player willing and able to screen goalies. Washington's Mike Knuble is one of the best.

"Mike Knuble gives us a net presence. Anytime the puck goes back to the point, he's trying to be our Tomas Holmstrom or Johan Franzen or any of those guys who get in a goalie's face so he can't see the puck," Boudreau said. "Knuble is 6-foot-3 and 223 pounds, a big body that is hard to move. He not only has good hands, he's determined. That's the biggest thing about goal scoring: Wanting to score. He sees a loose puck, he wants to score."

"Having the man in front of the goalie on shots from the point is very prevalent in the NHL," Shaw said. "NHL goaltenders are sound positionally and aggressive. Keeping a man in the blue (paint) is important when we're striving for a net-front presence. Some teams are better than others, depending on their personnel and their capabilities."

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