The Good NHL Power Plays That Aren't Really That Good

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 15: Head coach Tom Renney of the Edmonton Oilers watches from the bench during the NHL game against the Phoenix Coyotes at Arena on December 15, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

History indicates more shots equal more goals on the power play. That's bad news for the currently high-ranked Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers power plays, and good news for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Get the puck to the net.

It's a coach's mantra that's easier said than done, but it's the key to winning over the long run. Or rather: Get the puck to their net more than they get it to yours.

This also applies to power play success, as hockey stats explorer (and founder of SB Nation's Winnipeg Jets site Arctic Ice Hockey) Gabriel Desjardins has shown that the better indicator of future power play success is not which team has scored on more of its extra-man opportunities, but which team gets power play shots on at a higher rate.

That's bad news for teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers. It might be good news for the Columbus Blue Jackets.


As of December 21, the Maple Leafs have the NHL's second-ranked power play by "efficiency" -- goals per power play opportunities -- with a 21.4 percent success rate. The Oilers too are ranked highly, with their 20.6 percent efficiency ranking them fifth.

The underlying numbers suggest something else, however. As Derek Zona at Oilers site Copper & Blue has outlined, the Oilers power play is 24th overall in shots per 60 minutes -- hardly the mark of a unit that will keep scoring on one out of every five opportunities.

As Zona put it:

Another way of looking at this: over the last four years, there have been 120 individual seasons. Of the top half of all power plays during that time (60 of 120) only eight of those teams finished in the bottom ten in shots for per 60 with the man advantage.

What about the Leafs? Their extreme looks even worse: Though scoring goals on 21.4 percent of their opportunities so far in 2011-12, they rank behind even the Oilers in shots per 60 minutes. (The data is viewable at Desjardins' Behind the Net site.)

Team PP Eff. (Rank) PP Sh/60 (Rank)
Toronto 21.4% (2nd) 43.8 (25th)
Edmonton 20.6% (5th) 44.2 (24th)


How about the NHL's "bad" power plays? Are they doomed to remain so? That depends. The Columbus Blue Jackets are ranked 25th overall by the league with a 13.5 percent efficiency, but by shots per 60 they are in the top seven. There is reasonable room to move there.

The Carolina Hurricanes have a less extreme swing between their efficiency and shot ranking, but it's also worth keeping an eye on:

Team PP Eff. (Rank) PP Sh/60 (Rank)
Columbus 13.5% (25th) 53.3 (7th)
Carolina 13.4% (26th) 51.0 (12th)


Then there are the teams that show little sign of hope with the extra man.

By either measure the 30th-ranked Blues are, to steal from Dennis Green, what we thought they are. Or at least their power play is. It's still at a miserable 11 percent efficiency 32 games into the season. While they are riding a rise in the standings after coach Ken Hitchcock took over after 13 games, the power play he claimed would be fixed "in one practice" continues to languish by both measures: That unit's rate of 41.5 shots per 60 still ranks just fourth from the bottom. It's the fourth time in the last five seasons the team's power play has ranked 23rd or below by that measure.

Hitchcock has that team performing like a machine at even strength. But that power play might need more than one practice.

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