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Is it worth it to do power play?

Power play in hockey refers to having a player advantage on the ice during gameplay due to penalties. Teams get power play opportunities when the opposing team receives a penalty like hooking, slashing, or roughing. This results in the penalized team having fewer skaters on the ice for a set amount of time. The power play allows the non-penalized team to capitalize on having an extra attacker and to increase their chances of scoring a goal. But is going on the power play really worth it strategically for teams?

What are the benefits of scoring on the power play?

There are a few key benefits for teams that are able to capitalize on power play opportunities and score goals:

  • Momentum shift – Scoring on the power play can give the scoring team a big momentum boost while also deflating the energy of the opposing team.
  • Increased goal scoring – By having an extra skater, teams obviously increase their chances of being able to score goals during power plays.
  • Strategic advantage – Being able to make use of power play opportunities to score when the other team is disadvantaged gives teams a strategic edge in close games.

The best power play units in the NHL are able to convert on about 20-25% of their power play chances. While this conversion rate may not seem that high, it’s very significant when power play goals can often be the difference between winning and losing games.

What skills and strategies lead to power play success?

There are a few key factors that the top power play teams and players possess that enables them to maximize power play opportunities:

  • Shooting accuracy – Having players with elite shooting skills that can pick corners and be accurate snipers on the power play is a huge advantage.
  • Puck movement – Quick, crisp passing and puck control in tight spaces helps create looks at the net.
  • Strategic player positioning – The most dangerous power plays units position their players strategically to create multiple threats and options to attack the defense.
  • Special teams chemistry – The players on the ice need to have strong chemistry and awareness of where their teammates will be at all times.

Additionally, having a strong net-front presence for screens, rebounds and deflections is key. The defense also has to balance being aggressive while limiting shorthanded chances against.

What statistics indicate power play success?

Here are some of the key statistical categories that quantify which teams excel on the power play:

Stat Category Definition
Power Play Percentage Power play goals scored / total power play opportunities
Power Play Goals Total number of goals scored on the power play
Power Play Opportunities Total number of power play chances (penalties drawn)
Shots on Goal Number of shots on goal during power play chances

Teams that rank highly in categories like power play percentage, goals scored and shots on goal generally have an effective power play. Analytics have shown that drawing more penalties and generating shots on goal during power plays correlate strongly to scoring more power play goals over a season.

What are the costs of relying too much on power plays?

While scoring on the power play provides big advantages, there are some potential downsides for teams that become overreliant on special teams:

  • Can take focus away from 5-on-5 play – If teams are focused on drawing penalties, it may detract from executing at even strength.
  • Gives the opposition power play chances – Undisciplined play leading to penalties will also give the other team’s power play opportunities.
  • Shorthanded goals against – Aggressive power plays risks giving up odd-man rushes the other way.

The best teams still dominate when playing 5-on-5 rather than counting on penalties being drawn and special teams to bail them out. Playing recklessly to draw penalties can also backfire if the opposition has a strong power play. So it’s generally not a good long-term strategy to overly rely on special teams.

How should teams construct their power play units?

The best power play units have a combination of different player types to maximize their effectiveness when up a skater:

  • Playmaker – An elite passer that can quickly move the puck and set up teammates in scoring areas.
  • Finisher – A sniper with a dangerous shot who is a threat to score from anywhere in the zone.
  • Net-front Presence – A gritty forward able to screen the goalie and pounce on rebounds near the crease.
  • Puck Mover – A strong skating defenseman who can start the rush and keep the play moving from the point.
  • Wild Card – A speedy or skilled player that can be interchangeable based on matchups and injuries.

Balancing out these player types based on the personnel available is critical for power play success. Coaches also have to be willing to experiment with different looks until they find combinations that click and have chemistry together.

What player roles make an effective power play unit?

Here are the typical player roles on an effective NHL power play unit:

  • Center (Bumper) – Plays in the slot/middle of the ice as a shooting option and to retrieve loose pucks.
  • Winger (Flanker) x2 – Set up on their strong sides for one-timers or quick shots in the faceoff circles.
  • Defensemen x2 – Quarterback the play from the point and blast heavy shots through traffic.
  • Net-Front – Stands in front of the goalie to screen and tip point shots on goal.

Each position has clear responsibilities and areas of the ice to cover. The players move the puck quickly to pull defenders out of position and generate high-probability scoring chances.

What tactics lead to better power play success rates?

Coaches and players repeatedly practice different tactical approaches to try generating more power play goals. Here are some of the most common power play tactics:

  • Umbrella – With two defensemen at the points and three forwards down low, the shape spreads out the penalty killers.
  • Overload – Stacking three skaters on one side of the ice makes it difficult for the PK to defend.
  • Bombay – A shooter in the faceoff circle ready to hammer one-timers from the half-wall.
  • Behind the Net – Playmaker behind the goal line who can feed players in front or take away vision from the goalie.

Coaches will also focus on quick puck movement, deking defenders out of position, moving the goaltender side-to-side, and funneling pucks on net quickly to create screens and rebounds. There is no foolproof power play system, so diversity and unpredictability are assets.

What are the most popular power play set plays?

While power play units try to remain unpredictable, most teams do rely on set plays practiced repeatedly in training to generate scoring chances. Here are some of the most popular power play set plays:

  • Behind the Net Play – Center cycles behind the net and hits a winger for a one-timer at the faceoff dot.
  • Half Board Shot – Winger moves lateral across the top of the zone before snapping a quick wrister on goal.
  • Point Swap – Defensemen quickly trade places to change the shooting angle and create confusion.
  • Back Door Feed – Playmaker hits the weak-side winger sneaking in backdoor for a tap-in goal.

Executing these set plays with precise timing and coordination between teammates leads to a much higher probability of scoring goals.

How has power play strategy evolved over time?

Power play strategy has gradually evolved over the decades as new techniques and systems of play have emerged. Here is a quick overview of how NHL power play tactics have changed over the years:

Era Strategies
1970s Umbrella formations emerge with players in fixed positions
1980s Behind the net play and circulations become popular
1990s Overload formations with three players on one side
2000s Stretch pass breakouts and one-timer options
2010s Seam passes, quick puck movement, aggressive shot-blocking PKs

As penalty killing strategies have adapted over time, power play tactics have had to continually evolve as well to create new passing lanes and shooting options.

How have rules changes affected power plays?

Rule changes instituted by the NHL over the years have both created and eliminated advantages for power play units. Here are some of the most notable rule changes impacting power plays:

  • 2-line Pass Elimination (2005) – Allowed longer stretch passes on breakouts to gain the zone easier.
  • Goalie Trapazoid (2005) – Restricted goalie handling of the puck, preventing some PK breakouts.
  • Obstruction Crackdowns (2005) – Made it harder for PKers to clutch, grab and interfere, creating more PP space.
  • Shallow Nets (2014) – Allowed more room behind the net for PP circulations.
  • Slashing Penalties (2017) – Stricter slashing calls gave the PP more opportunities.

Coaching staffs have had to constantly adapt their power play systems and tactics over the years in response to new rules that benefited either the power play or penalty kill units.

What are the keys to having an effective power play?

Based on an analysis of historical data and trends, here are the essential keys to having an effective NHL power play unit:

  • Possessing right-handed shooters for optimal one-timer angles.
  • Having a superstar playmaker that can quarterback the power play.
  • Balancing shooting threats across the ice to force PKers to cover more territory.
  • Getting pucks and bodies to the net quickly to create screens, tips and rebounds.
  • Developing multiple set plays that can be executed reliably when needed.
  • Having a bomb from the point that intimidates penalty killers.
  • Establishing good zone entries to get set up quickly in formation.

While roster personnel plays a big part, the very best power plays succeed through tactical precision, unpredictability and taking advantage of small mistakes made by penalty killing units. A slight misstep can quickly turn into a prime scoring chance.


Scoring on the power play provides tremendous advantages for teams in the ultra-competitive NHL. The elite teams are able to convert on power play opportunities at rates 20% or higher thanks to a combination of strategic systems, skilled personnel, ingenuity and relentless practice. While becoming overly dependent on power plays can be detrimental in the long run, teams that excel with the man advantage will always have the upper hand in close games and playoff series. The future evolution of power play tactics will continue as coaches adapt to rule changes and new penalty killing schemes. But the principles of quick puck movement, strategic positioning, shooting accuracy and team chemistry will always be the foundation for successful power play units striving to capitalize when up a skater.