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Manning the Point

by Kevin Wilson / Nashville Predators
Known as the “power play quarterback,” the player at the point in man-advantage situations has a role that expands far beyond possessing a powerful slap shot and knowing when to use it, though they are important aspects to the position.

“There is a lot that goes into being an effective point-man on the power play – vision, passing ability, and being able to read a play and make split-second decisions are just some of them,” Predators Associate Coach Brent Peterson said. “A lot of it comes back to instincts.”

With the departure of long-time point man Kimmo Timonen to Philadelphia, the Predators have experimented with a number of different defensemen on the point so far. While Marek Zidlicky has been a mainstay at the position the past few seasons, Dan Hamhuis, Ryan Suter and Shea Weber are all getting the opportunity to show their offensive skills in 2007-08.

Hamhuis has been utilized on the man-advantage unit the past two seasons with Team Canada at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships, but is being used regularly in the position in Nashville for the first time this season. The Smithers, B.C., native said the instantaneous decisions that the position demands many times comes back to hockey sense and anticipation.

“Many times, you don’t really have time to think,” he said. “You practice it a lot to develop muscle-memory, then when you see a certain situation you are programmed to make those plays. Just the preparation we do in practice, and mentally before the game gets us ready for the decisions.”

The most obvious of situations can come countless times during the course of a penalty-plagued season, and it many times leads to disapproval by the thousands in attendance – pass or shoot?

“If there are people screening and taking away the goalie’s eyes, nine times out of 10 I will shoot it,” said Suter, who has become even more of a mainstay at the point with Weber going down to injury.
“If there is no one in front I’ll look for a better play, like over to Arnie (Jason Arnott) for the one-timer because he will probably have people in front of him. It is just reading, looking for the right play, and setting other guys up, that is my mindset.”

Suter emphasized that while it may look as if there is a wide-open shot to be had from the point, therein lies the problem. He said if there is no one challenging the point man, and no one is in front serving as a screen, the goaltender will have no problem seeing the puck, and making the stop. Hamhuis agrees that reading those holes and lanes comes only from experience, in addition to the ability to adapt to constantly changing scenarios.

Among those adaptations includes ones made necessary by the rule alterations that occurred prior to the 2005-06 season, such as the expansion of each offensive zone by four feet. This enabled power play units to spread the opposition out more, increasing the frequency of cross-ice passes. The blue line being further from the goal also made the need for traffic in front that much more imperative.

“Shooting the puck from the point three years ago compared to shooting it now is a good three feet, and you can definitely tell,” Suter said. “It took some time to get used to the longer shot, but there is definitely more room to make plays.”

The responsibility of the quarterback goes beyond just being an offensively gifted blue liner – being the last man back means that if a penalty killer gets by, he is home free for a breakaway. This can also factor into the shoot or pass decision.

“If a shot or pass you make gets blocked, there is a chance for a breakaway the other way,” Hamhuis said. “Because of this, we watch the opposition’s penalty kill to see if they have any tendencies, either coming after you or laying back.”

Scouting the opposition in the video room is important part to implementing any game plan, especially on the power play. The system doesn’t change, but what plays will be available can differ from game to game based on how the four, and sometimes three-man squad trying to kill the time off sets up in the zone.

“Sometimes they will be forcing the pass and be hard on you, and it is expected if you watched them,” Suter said. “You can also set up different plays for different teams, and get a heads up on any plays they might try.”

Units also frequently watch themselves on tape to see how they should or could have reacted differently in different situations. Sometimes there is no criticism involved, it is just simply getting a feel for how things are functioning. This is usually done the day after the game when it is fresh in the players’ minds.

Despite all the practice and preparation a unit puts in, whether it is clicking or slumping, Peterson said the success of the power play comes down to one thing.

“You can watch all the video you want and practice for as long as you want, but ultimately during a game, it all comes down to execution.”
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