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Let’s Talk About the Power Play

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Analyzing the Senators work on the man advantage through the first 20 games of the season.

Montreal Canadiens v Ottawa Senators Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images

Before we get started, I want to thank the Ottawa Senators for looking more dangerous as ever on the power play last night as I was finishing writing this piece. Just perfect timing from the squad. Some real sicko behaviour all around.

Anyways.

As we move along in the 2020-21 season, the Ottawa Senators are starting to look like a better team than their first few weeks would indicate. While they’re still occupying the basement of the North, they’ve been competitive in most of their last six or seven games, and they bagged wins against both Montreal (x2) and Toronto in the month of February.

And while there are many things to address, one of the most glaring opportunities for improvement is this team’s power play. As of Tuesday afternoon, 20 games into Ottawa’s season, the Sens were rocking a rough 11% success rate; good for 28th in the league. The last time (before Tuesday night) that the Senators scored on the power play was during their win against Montreal on February 4th. In that span, they had 24 opportunities and scored precisely zero times. Over that same stretch, the Sens lost three times by one goal, once by two goals. A simple power play goal in any of those four games could have altered the outcome of the contests.

So, what’s the problem?

Today we’re going to take a dive into some metrics to see how the Sens compare to the top power play units and players in the league, to see if we can identify some shifts of strategy for the Sens moving forward.

Before you ask, I’m not about to suggest they get rid of the drop pass. I hate it, too. But DJ Smith confirmed it’s not going anywhere.

First, we’re going to jump into CF/60 - a metric that looks at shot attempts for over a 60 minute period. Then, we’ll check xGF/60 - to understand the number of goals Ottawa’s power play is expected to score. Following that, we’ll look at on-ice shooting percentage - which is pretty self explanatory! Finally, I wanted to compare Ottawa’s power play shot locations to that of the top units in the league, to understand if Ottawa’s moving the puck to the right spots on the ice.

Shot Attempts on the Power Play

As a team, the Sens rank 23rd in CF/60 with 85.10 shot attempts over 60 minutes of power play time. For context, the Columbus Blue Jackets are last with 69.95 while the Carolina Hurricanes top the league with 115.75. Columbus has the 23rd ranked power play while Carolina is 7th, just a few percentage points behind the top team. Toronto, the most successful power play, ranks 8th in CF/60 while Washington, the second most successful power play, ranks 9th. All this is to say, there’s a decent correlation between getting shots on net on the power play and have a successful power play. But, that probably seems obvious.

Individually, this is where things get interesting and we can maybe begin to explain why Ottawa ranks so low in both power play success and CF/60. The highest ranking players in CF/60 on the power play are Nick Paul and Erik Brännström - both of which have played only 10 minutes with the man advantage this season. If we jump down to the players who spend the most time on the power play - Josh Norris, Evgenii Dadonov and Drake Batherson - they rank 177th, 196th and 203rd respectively in the league in this stat. The players who lead the league in CF/60 are literally twice as effective as Ottawa’s top players.

The Senators are simply not getting enough shot attempts on the power play to give them a chance at being successful. The power play may look better of late, there’s been some solid puck movement, players like Tim Stützle, Norris and Batherson have shown a keen ability to quickly move the puck around the outside of the offensive zone. But, right now, the volume of chances just aren’t there.

Expected Goals on the Power Play

In analyzing Ottawa’s xGF/60, we’re seeing an even more direct correlation between where teams rank here and how successful their powerplay is - which shouldn’t be surprising. We’re looking at how many goals they should score on the power play based on their shot attempts, locations and the likelihood that they’ll score from where they’re shooting from.

Of the top ten teams in power play success, four of them are in the top ten of xGF/60, while the 11th place LA Kings (by 0.5%) are also in the top ten of xGF/60. Ottawa, on the other hand, is 22nd in expected goals per 60 on the man advantage, with just 5.84 compared to Toronto’s 8.70.

Individually, the exact same trend exists in this stat as CF/60. Ottawa’s top players are nowhere near the top of the league. Again, this shouldn’t be surprising. If your top players aren’t producing, the team as a whole will follow suit. What’s particularly interesting is that Brännström is a top 25 player in the league (minimum 10 PP minutes) in this stat. If he continues this trend, there might be merit in bumping him to the top unit even when Chabot is healthy, as his skillset appears to lend towards increasing the chances Ottawa scores a goal.

On-Ice Shooting Percentage on the Power Play

Here’s where things get interesting.

As a team, the Sens are 28th in shooting percentage when they have the advantage in players on the ice. With a whopping 7.92%, Ottawa is 17% short of first place and only halfway to the league average. In other words: yikes.

Based on this, it definitely won’t surprise you to learn that, individually, the Sens are absolutely terrible in this regard. Ottawa’s player with the highest shooting percentage on the power play is Connor Brown and he ranks 212th in the league. Yes, you read that correctly. He’s first on the team. But two hundred and twelfth (!) in the league.

Essentially, even when the Senators are getting chances they’re converting almost none of them. So, why might that be?

Shot Locations on the Power Play

We’ve established already that Ottawa struggles with getting chances on the power play - in both quantity and quality. So, other than simply getting more shots on net, I wanted to look at how their shot locations compare to that of the top power play teams in the league. As of writing this, the NHL’s best power play teams are Toronto (33.3%), Washington (33.3%), Dallas (32.7%) and Buffalo (32.7%).

In reviewing their shot location data, courtesy of HockeyViz, there’s something glaringly obvious. Here is Ottawa’s shot location data.

Hockeyviz.com

You can immediately see that the majority of Ottawa’s shots on the man advantage come from pretty far from the net. Yes, there’s that spot in the slot that’s looking good - fittingly, that’s Brady Tkachuk’s office - but the majority of the work is coming from the point, the half wall or a sharp angle at the bottom of the circle.

Now, let’s look at Toronto.

Hockeyviz.com

Do we need to state the obvious or are we good?

Now, Washington, Dallas and Buffalo.

Hockeyviz.com

Washington’s data looks closer to Ottawa’s, but they still have Ovechkin’s one-timer spot mixed in with some chances in close. The Sens’ current shot chart might be a lot more manageable if they also had one of the greatest shooters in the history of the game. Both Buffalo and Dallas generate a ton of action in close to the net, as well.

Needless to say, Ottawa needs to increase their chances on the man advantage but, more importantly, they need to stop playing from the outside and create opportunities closer to the net. If you go through the remaining teams in the NHL with a 25%+ success rate on the power play, you’re going to see the same thing. Their quantity and quality of shots are both better and more dangerous than what Ottawa has been up to for the majority of this season.

Where Do We Go From Here?

This is the million dollar question, really. This Sens team isn’t exactly stacked with offensive firepower. They have what I deem to be one good power play unit and they have to stack it with their capable players, leaving the second unit very weak, to make that happen.

For the most part, Ottawa has run a relatively predictable power play through their first twenty games. They move the puck around the outside and almost always revert to one of two plays: the defender point shot or the forward one timer on the half wall. These are both great plays to generate an opportunity, look for a tip or bury a rebound but, very often, the puck ends up easily stopped, going wide or getting blocked.

One thing they can focus on is more plays like this one:

While it didn’t end in a goal, or even a shot on goal for that matter, these are the types of plays they have to shift towards. Look at where Dadonov gets the shot from; it’s hard to imagine a much better scoring opportunity. With players like Tim Stützle and Drake Batherson, you have the hands out there to make these passes. If they can’t get that free man in the slot where Dadonov is in the above clip, they can use that net front player as a boomerang who sets up shop in front of the net and, when the puck moves down low, they pop up to the hashmarks and get ready for this one timer opportunity.

The good news is that the power play looked incredible last night. During the four minute minor to Shea Weber, the Sens had a handful of grade A chances from in close all within a 30 second window. If the Sens can keep that kind of movement up, we won’t be talking about how bad the power play is for much longer. The only place to go is up!