Wednesday, January 30, 2008

NHL's Best Power Play

Earlier this season, I wrote about the Montreal Canadiens NHL leading power play. In mid-November, they had a remarkable 29.5% success rate on the power play. The rate has since dropped. They now stand in second in the NHL with a 24.1% rate, which while still quite good shows a considerable drop off from their early season successes. This probably shows that teams have caught onto the fact that Montreal's power play is extremely dangerous and they are better prepared for it. Any drop off on the power play has not affected Montreal in the standings. Their 27-23 record (with 8 losses counted as regulation ties) has the Habs with the second best point total in the East Conference.

In the meantime, the Philadelphia Flyers have passed the Canadiens in the power play standings. Philadelphia has a league leading 24.9% success rate on their power play. This is the same team that only managed a 14.1% success rate in 2006/07. They have considerably improved their power play since last season and it is one of the reasons the team is doing much better. This season, their power play has been led by Daniel Briere, Mike Richards, Mike Knuble, Kimmo Timonen and Joffrey Lupul. Only Knuble and Richards are holdovers from last season (Knuble leads the Flyers in power play goals with 11). Last season, the top power play scorer of that bunch was Daniel Briere in Buffalo. He finished 56th in the league in power play scoring with 30 points on the power play. This year he should well exceed that. He already has 26 power play points and sits third in the league in power play scoring.

Frankly, I am surprised by the Flyers power play successes. I cannot easily explain them. Sure they have a group of good players on their power play. They have four of the top 30 power play scorers this season (Briere, Richards, Knuble and Timonen). None of these players had come close to this success last year. What is the secret to the Flyers power play? I cannot find it.

In fact, I am at a loss to predict which teams will have successful power plays based on the players they have on their rosters. In pre-season, I would have figured that Pittsburgh should have a league leading power play. They could play a first unit of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Petr Sykora (in pre-season I might have placed Mark Recchi here), Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney. I would have thought that this unit should be hard to stop. It wasn't an awful prediction. Gonchar currently leads the NHL with 32 power play points and the Penguins are the fifth best power play (with a 19.6% success rate). Still, the obvious question is what does the Flyers power play have that the Penguins do not? Is it a better system? If so would that be attributed to coach John Stevens or any of his assistants? If so, why couldn't the system work as well last year? Is it merely a lack of talented bodies? How are the Flyers talented bodies more dangerous on the power play than those of the Penguins anyway? Am I missing something?

Success in the NHL is often driven by success on the power play. This season, the Philadelphia Flyers are a much better power play team than they were last season. Although they have good players on their power play unit, I would argue that some other teams have better ones. What is the secret of their success?

"Success in the NHL is often driven by success on the power play."

The league's last place team wishes this was a bigger factor. The Kings have a top 6 or 7 power play. As always it comes back to defense and goaltending.
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