Last week, I spent some time looking at the power-play shot profiles for Alexander Ovechkin and Auston Matthews. One of the principal conclusions was that as players understand how best to optimize their offensive skill sets and those of their teammates, teams begin to develop their own identity.
In other words: power play setups tend to be as productive as the talent involved.
Looking at the Washington Capitals on the power play over the years, it’s interesting to note how they’ve utilized their personnel, particularly with respect to defencemen. Washington’s used a four-forward setup for a few seasons now, with the defenceman role shared between the likes of John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov.
Carlson in particular has a fantastic shot and can act as a valuable relief valve, but the juice from this power play really comes from the forwards – a group that includes offensive talents like Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom.
One thing that has always been noticeable within the Washington power play is that the defencemen shoot sparingly. This season, forwards in Washington accounted for 83 per cent of shot volume on the power play, the highest number in the league. (The league’s best power play, in Edmonton, was at 82 per cent.) By design, these power plays intend to funnel the puck through the playmakers on the wings and towards shooters in the slot or the circles. Shots from the blueline? Those are hard to find.
It’s not a trivial data point. A few years ago, teams started to shift towards a four-forward power play because it yielded more scoring opportunities and, consequently, goals. We have started to see another shift, too – teams running power plays through the forwards more than defenders walking the blueline.