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Breaking Down the Senators' Favourite Set Play

Mike Hoffman and Erik Karlsson have teamed up and executed set plays all season long from offensive zone faceoffs.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

If there's one on-ice example that best portrays the shortcomings of the Senators coaching staff this season, it has to be structure and strategy.

Ottawa's penalty kill is 29th in the league, only ahead of the lowly Calgary Flames, and their power play - which has scored one goal in its last 40 opportunities - is absolutely abysmal. Only the Winnipeg Jets are worse on the man advantage. Combined, the Senators' special teams are dead last in the NHL.

Dead last.

Most nights, there doesn't seem to be a solid plan in order. And on some nights, it looks like there isn't a plan at all.

Assistant coach André Tourigny - who was brought in last summer and put in charge of the power play - has had his fair share of criticism this year, and a lot is warranted. Perhaps the same is also to be said of who is running the penalty kill, as well. (Jason Smith might be the best guess, as he is in charge of the defense corps.)

But while Ottawa lacks direction and overall formation in many facets of the game - whether it's power play, penalty kill, breakout, etc... - their execution of set plays on offensive zone faceoffs has been intriguingly the opposite.

Regardless of who first drew up the play, the tandem of Mike Hoffman and Erik Karlsson can be sneakily dangerous directly after the puck is dropped in the opponent's end.

To introduce the play, here's one of several times it has produced a goal this season.

When trying to find other instances where the Senators have used this set play, I went through 10 random games, searched for Hoffman's shot attempts directly after an offensive zone faceoff win and found that Ottawa carries out this attack, on average, at least once a game.

So, let's walk through a couple examples of Ottawa's short playbook. (Descriptions will come after the screenshot.)

For one, this exact play only happens when the puck is dropped to the goalie's left. The centre - in this case, Mika Zibanejad - has two jobs. One, he has to win the faceoff directly behind him, and two, he must tie up his man for as long as he can to buy time for his teammates.

If the puck doesn't have enough speed to reach Karlsson on the blue line, Hoffman will come in and sweep it back to the captain, but in this instance, Zibanejad wins it back clean enough and Hoffman heads back to open ice.

Lastly, Bobby Ryan makes a beeline towards the crease in hopes to screen the goaltender and possibly get his stick on a shot coming his way.

As Hoffman backs up towards the blue line, Dion Phaneuf switches positions with Hoffman and heads to the net as the Senators' sniper assumes the position as a defender in the offensive zone.

Karlsson draws in an approaching forward and passes to Hoffman who has loads of time now to pull the trigger.

With Phaneuf and Ryan creating traffic in front of Jake Allen, and Zibanejad still making himself useful, drawing a little interference, Hoffman is able to get a good shot off.

Though the set play is almost always used on the right side, we have seen the Senators carry out a similar play on the left side multiple times.

For that, we'll turn to a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs in early February in the nation's capital.

Kyle Turris wins the faceoff back cleanly, but it doesn't have enough juice to reach Karlsson on the blue line. Hoffman picks up the puck, drops it to his defenseman and heads for the right faceoff dot.

Just like on the previous play we went through, Ryan heads to the net to create havoc for the goaltender - in this case, James Reimer. Once Hoffman has possession of the puck and begins the set play, Marc Methot wanders back to his defensive position on the blue line.

While Karlsson does have numerous options as he quarterbacks his team from the point, Hoffman is able to lose his man and get in optimum position for a one-timer. Ryan is doing his best to get in front of Reimer and block his vision.

Turris falls.

Karlsson is able to freeze Reimer for a split second as he chooses to find a wide open Hoffman who is winding up for a slapshot. The net is a yawning cage at this point, but Reimer has done a good enough job that it looks like he'll be in position for the oncoming bullet.

Turris is back on his feet.

Though Hoffman is unable to get off his best shot, the set play has created somewhat of a scoring chance seconds after the puck was dropped. And if Ryan was able to get in better position, the rebound would have been an easy tap-in for him.

***

There are a couple reasons why this set play has continued to generate quality chances for the Senators.

For one, they're properly utilizing one of the best releases in all of hockey right now. The distance is also perfect. Hoffman's shot has a tendency to be most effective when he can wire one from the perimeter and hopefully use a player or two as a screen.

Comparing him to Mark Stone - a much more prominent net presence - you see that a great deal of Hoffman's goals have come from far outside the high-percentage shooting areas.

He's just that good. (Stone's goals are blue S's and Hoffman's are red H's. But you knew that.)

The second reason why the play has become so successful is that everyone knows their role and consistently performs well. Just like a well-oiled machine, the operation can't profit unless every player is executing to the best of their abilities.

The centre must first win the faceoff and then tie up his man. The winger that isn't Hoffman needs to make sure they get to the net quickly in order to maximize the damage of the oncoming shot. Karlsson must draw in a forward, throw in a fake shot to get the goalie guessing and then pass off to Hoffman.

And apparently they can change things up if the moment presents itself.

Last night, when the Senators were playing host to the Pittsburgh Penguins, they were in formation to carry out their set play. Zibanejad won the faceoff back cleanly, Karlsson found Hoffman at the point, but Chris Kunitz was on to them. The Penguins forward was already pressuring Hoffman as he accepted the pass.

But Hoffman simply threaded a pass back to Karlsson, and the 25-year-old wound up, fired and banked one in off Patric Hörnqvist for the first tally of the game.

It was Karlsson's 100th career goal.