The Optimal Blackhawks Power Play

It’s Saturday, you want to go outside, I want to go outside, so I’ll try to keep this post short and sweet.

The Blackhawks power play has been pretty bad. Then again, it is usually pretty bad. They are normally in the bottom half of the league in shot generation and goal generation. But this is the playoffs. Chicago needs to cash in on every opportunity they have and some of the biggest opportunities come on the power play. Because of this, I decided to research what Chicago’s optimal power play line looks like.

To start, I went to Corsica.Hockey and looked up the power play line stats. This is what I found.

Screen Shot 2017-04-15 at 10.14.20 AM.png

Green is good and red is bad. The one thing I noticed here is Richard Panik. Out of the five lines that have the most power play time, he’s on the three lines that have produced the most.

Unfortunately, Corsica only provides three forwards, and I can’t look up what a 5-man power play unit produces. But what do I know? I know that Duncan Keith, Artemi Panarin, Patrick Kane, and probably Jonathan Toews should be on the top power play line. I just need to figure out who the last player should be. After the above chart, it’s looking like Panik.

I know Duncan Keith has always been on the first power play unit, so i decided to look up player 5v4 stats when they play with Duncan Keith. I can’t just look up say Richard Panik’s overall power play stats, because that will include time on the abysmal 2nd power play unit. Anyone with ice time on that unit will see their numbers drop. This is why I looked up how players performed with Duncan Keith as this should mean how they performed on the top power play unit.

Screen Shot 2017-04-15 at 10.15.53 AM.png

Above, we see that Chicago has really good power play numbers when Richard Panik is on the first power play unit. Toews and Anisimov are good. Seabrook is alright. Hossa, Hartman, and Schmaltz have been pretty bad in minimal ice time on the top unit.

Panik really sticks out. Chicago creates many shots and takes better quality shots when he was on the top unit this season. The shot quality numbers (eXpected Goals) really stand out.

With this research, I concluded that Chicago’s optimal power play line is:

  • Duncan Keith
  • Jonathan Toews
  • Patrick Kane
  • Artemi Panarin
  • Richard Panik

The next question is why? Why has this power play worked?

In looking back at some of the tape, I believe it has to do with the unusual play of Jonathan Toews.

First, we must remember what the Blackhawks normal 1-3-1 scheme looks like here.

That link goes to a breakdown of the 1-3-1, but for those short on time, here is a picture.

pp-formation-1

One point man, one net front presence, two wings, and one player in the middle or high slot area.

With the optimal power play setup, Keith is the point man, Panarin and Kane are the wings, Panik is the net front presence, and Toews is in the middle. BUT, what makes the optimal power play so good is the fact that Toews doesn’t stay in the middle. He is more of a rover. Toews goes to the net to provide a double screen. Toews drops down behind the net to receive a pass. The power play has structure in the diamond formation, but Toews being a rover creates some chaos for the other team.

We will look at two power play goals scored on February 11th vs the Edmonton Oilers.

Goal Number One

Screen Shot 2017-04-15 at 11.00.00 AM.png

Notice Chicago is set up in the 1-3-1 structured formation, but Toews isn’t in the red circle where he normally would be. He has drifted below the net. Let’s see how this play shakes out.

 

With no Blackhawk in the middle, there is more space to pass the puck. After moving the puck around, Kane gives it to Toews down low who performs a power move to the net. Chaos ensues. Chicago crashes the net and Kane scores.

Goal Number Two

Screen Shot 2017-04-15 at 11.05.53 AM.png

Here Chicago again sets up in the 1-3-1 formation, but Toews has skated from the high slot down to the net. He and Panik essentially provide a double goalie screen. Again, Toews was a rover on this play. He abandoned where players normally stay in the 1-3-1 (the high slot where I have the red circle).

Here is what happened.

 

The puck gets moved around, Kane puts it towards the net, Toews and Panik battle for it and Panik scores the goal.

Thoughts

Both goals were pretty simple. They included Toews leaving his normal position, getting the puck close to the net, and crashing the net.

I really like this idea of a 1-3-1 but with Toews as a rover. Chicago never utilizes their high slot man on the 1-3-1. When the unit is Panrin, Toews, Kane, Keith, and Seabrook, Keith plays the high slot role and basically does nothing but stand there.

This is why I think Panik’s numbers are so good. When he’s on the unit, he becomes the net front presence, and Toews becomes the high slot man. I noticed this power play was the most effective when Toews was roaming around and not stagnant in the high slot.

A great challenge with power plays is structure vs freelance. The power play needs good formation and structure to be able to run plays and work together as a unit. However, too much structure and they become predictable and easier for the PK unit to defend.

This is why I like the idea of rover Toews. The power play still has its main outside formation of the 1-3-1 in the diamond shape, but one player freelances to help create chaos to keep the PK guessing.

If I’m Q, I get the Keith, Panarin, Kane, Toews, Panik power play unit back together for the playoffs.