The Chicago Blackhawks Power Play 101

In the game of football, there are plenty of strategies and formations. The offense has formations they like to run for certain scenarios like Shotgun, Goal Line, or Single Back. The defense will counter with their own formation like 4-3, 3-4, Nickel, or Dime. Each player has their own responsibility to help achieve team success.

Special teams in the NHL is similar to football. The power play has formations they are running in order to score. The penalty kill counters with their own formations attempting to shut down the opponent. I’ve already discussed the Blackhawks penalty kill formations, and today will look at the power play.

When watching the Blackhawks power play, one will normally see the Chicago players set up in the 1-3-1 power play formation. Let’s take a look at why it’s called a 1-3-1.

The 1-3-1 Power Play Formation
The formation gets its name from the players being set up in three lines. The three lines consist of one, three, and one players.

This has become a very common power play setup in the NHL. By looking at the yellow lines above, you will notice that each player has three main passing options. This allows skilled players like Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin to make plays and generate scoring chances. The formation creates four triangles between players, so there is always multiple passing options that the opponent must worry about and cover.

A weakness of the 1-3-1 is the fact that only one player is playing the point. With only one defenseman back, this power play formation tends to give up more shorthanded goals. This negative is usually offset by an increase in scoring compared to a conservative power play formation.

Here are the Blackhawks setup in the 1-3-1.

Blackhawks in the 1-3-1
If we look around, we see plenty of space for the Blackhawk players to operate, along with many passing lanes. This is a great setup for Chicago, as they are adept at quickly moving the puck and setting up passes to the slot or cross ice one-timers.

Seabrook is the one defenseman on the point. This position requires a lot of responsibility. As we see in the above photo, Seabrook is taking a shot. If this shot is blocked by the high forward, Calgary can easily create a 2-on-1 opportunity the other way. Simply look at the picture. The three closest players to Corey Crawford at the other end of the ice are Brent Seabrook and then the two Calgary forwards. The point man on the 1-3-1 can’t take ill-advised shots, and when he does, he must get them through the penalty kill.

The top Blackhawks power play unit usually consists of Artem Anisimov, Artemi Panarin, Duncan Keith, Patrick Kane, and Brent Seabrook. The photo below shows where they normally take their position, as well as the type of shot they have.

Shot Type Of Each Player
The following is an excerpt from Hockey Plays and Strategies by Ryan Walter and Mike Johnston that perfectly describes the responsibilities of each player.

  • Right and Left Side Half-Boards Players (Artemi Panarin & Patrick Kane) Set up with the right shot on the left boards and the left shot on the right. These two players are definitely the quarterbacks. Both must be a threat to shoot or fake the shot and pass while also being calm under pressure. They should work the puck up to the high D as number one option, and don’t force plays through the box – often the play through the box will open up after recovering a rebound.
  • Mid-Ice Point Man (Brent Seabrook) An important strategy for this defenseman is to keep his feet on the blue line to allow more room to make a play or step into a shot. Slide along the line with deception while looking to find an open lane to the net. Quickly work the puck from left to right if the shot isn’t there, and then look to shoot again. Wrist shots to the net are also good, but it there is a chance for a slapshot, use it. In the 1-3-1 setup, the puck should revolve around this player.
  • Slot Player (Duncan Keith) This can be a defenseman who slides in or a forward who plays defense and then moves into the slot area. Move into this position once the puck is under control. Depending on whether this player is a right or left shot, from one side he must be ready for a quick release shot and from the other side a shot pass. The shot pass is a play where the outside players shoot to the stick of the slot player for a redirect on the net. The slot player should move around in the space to distract the penalty killers. It is key that this player is ready to support both half-boards players when they are in trouble.
  • Net Man (Artem Anisimov) The net man, as the name indicates, plays the net area unless support is needed to settle the puck out. He may release to the strong side for a low pass and the potential to make a quick inside play. This is a good strategy, but the player has to read whether the high players are shooting or whether they need a low option. Stay active, and get into shooting lanes at the right time.

For Chicago, Patrick Kane would most likely be considered the QB of the power play as he controls the puck and runs the show the most. Below, we see Patrick Kane with the puck and the options he has.

Patrick Kane’s Options With The Puck
  1. Shoot
  2. Pass back to Seabrook
  3. Pass to Keith
  4. Pass to Panarin
  5. Pass to Anisimov

Kane actually fakes a slap shot and then sends a pass to Anisimov who tips the puck in for a goal on this play.

One thing I want to mention is that Panarin – Keith – Kane don’t have to be in a line for it to be a 1-3-1. Both Keith and Panarin will try to move into areas where Kane can make a successful pass to them.

With Panarin being a right shot, he can hit a one-timer off a Kane feed in the above photo. Keith on the other hand is a left shot. With a pass coming from the right side, Keith won’t be able to get a shot off as quickly as a right shot player like Seabrook would in his place. Seabrook has a really good shot that could be better utilized in the slot position than Keith’s shot.

I mentioned before about this power play being a high risk, high reward setup. The Blackhawks normally have Brent Seabrook as point defenseman. Seabrook isn’t the quickest or most mobile defenseman. If the power play has to race back to play defense against an aggressive penalty kill, Duncan Keith might be a better option. He’s quicker and most would say the better open ice defender.

I’d like to see Seabrook and Keith switch places. This would allow Seabrook to better utilize his heavy shot from the high slot, give Kane another one-timer passing option other than Panarin, and Keith doesn’t provide much scoring in that position anyway. Keith only had 4 power play goals while playing in the slot last season compared to Seabrook’s 6 goals while playing the point.

With Keith on the point, Chicago will have a better passer and defender on the back-end. Duncan Keith also has the ability to get his shot through. Statistically he was better at getting his shot to the net last season than Seabrook was. Over their careers, they are about the exact same in getting the puck through, so there isn’t any drop off there.

The Blackhawks power play has been a high scoring one, but I feel like switching Keith and Seabrook’s roles on the power play could make it even better.

With the net front position, Anisimov isn’t always an immobile goalie screen. An example is the photo below. Kane is receiving heavy pressure. The Kings have the passing lanes to Seabrook, Keith, & Panarin covered. Anisimov recognizes the pressure and moves towards to boards to give Kane a passing outlet.

Net Front Player Helps Relieve Pressure
Anisimov realizes that there is no need for a goalie screen when a shot isn’t coming, and supporting Patrick Kane is the go to play in this instance. As for the actual play above, Kane was able to keep the puck and break the pressure. Anisimov never received the puck and quickly moved back to his original position in front of the goalie.

Still, this is an easy play for Anisimov to make. Whenever the powerplay is getting in trouble, he can come out and provide support and a passing option. A likely scenario in the above photo would be Kane moving the puck down the boards towards Anisimov. Anisimov then could pass back to Kane, pass to Keith in the slot, keep the puck moving along the boards over to Panarin, or drive hard to the net. I just wanted to show that the player in front of the net can do a lot more than simply stand there.

One thing to look for is how long it takes the team to set up the formation after a faceoff or zone entry. For an effective power play, a team wants to get control of the puck in the offensive zone as quickly as possible and then get in formation as quickly as possible. This is something I’ve noticed with Chicago lately. When gaining control of the puck in the offensive zone, Chicago tends to freelance a little before getting into formation. They usually don’t accomplish much while freelancing and thus waste valuable time. A power play is normally only two minutes long, so it’s very important to get the puck and in formation as quickly as possible to have success.

Now, hopefully you can start to recognize the Blackhawks when they setup in the 1-3-1, and the responsibilities of each player involved. With even strength scoring becoming a toss-up, special teams play is becoming more important. A good powerplay can be the difference between making or missing the playoffs in the NHL.

For more information about powerplays, I suggest visiting the special teams project website and the many wonderful articles there such as:


1. Walter, Ryan, and Mike Johnston. “Penalty Kills.” Hockey Plays and Strategies. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2010. N. pag. Print.