For those of you who have been clamoring for more frequent Frame-by-Frame article, get excited: I am now writing them on a bi-weekly basis! This week's article is actually a two-parter that looks at the Nashville Predators power play. The first part (this one) focuses on our power play when it is not so great and the second part (forthcoming) will focus on it when it is so great. In the next two articles I am more interested in illustrating the impact of player movement than in including some of the other details I like to have, so heads up: I haven't labeled any of the players today. With that short intro, let's get started on the power play!
Nashville Goal: Hahaha just kidding - we don't score here, can't imagine why.
But hey - here's the video anyway. Hopefully YouTube doesn't take it down, but I couldn't find the bit I wanted in a linked clip so I made it myself. (Edit: I just realized that despite intending to include it, there is no audio. I'll try to fix that soon.)
Here we go.
The puck dropped at 2:55 in the far circle and Ducks just won it. Their defenseman shoots it around the boards to clear the zone, but his stick breaks (his neck almost did too) and Ryan Ellis is able to get it and hold the blue line. So what began as a 5-on-4 power play is more of a 5-on-3.5. This is a prime opportunity for the Preds to capitalize at the end of a period that really didn't go their way. It doesn't get any juicier than this. Once Ellis gets the puck, he passes to Ribeiro to evade the oncoming Duck. Ribeiro gives him the puck back once he's open and heads behind the net while Ellis holds onto the puck.
Now we're 10 seconds post-puck drop. Ryan Kesler handed his stick to the defenseman, per the unwritten rules of stickless-ness (defensemen pass to goalies, forwards pass to defensemen, forwards suck it up). Craig Smith and Colin Wilson are preparing for a shot from the point by crowding the slot. Ribeiro scoots behind the net at the pace of a lethargic turtle. Ellis moves the puck to Seth Jones in anticipation of Ribeiro eventually getting over to the far half-boards.
Kesler decides to stick with Ellis because if he's going to be more-or-less useless out there, he might as well be as less useless as possible and take an option away from the Preds (especially a shooter like Ellis). At this point this PP definitively becomes a 4-on-3, because Ellis and Kesler are uninvolved in the play. Given the Preds' defensive power, negating Ellis is a better move for the Ducks than just sitting back helplessly and letting Ellis and Jones take shot after shot on net.
Let's talk about Ribeiro. It's easier to see it in real time in the video, so go back and watch it again. He is super casual as he strolls behind the net. He looks like he's at warmups, taking long, slow strides. Perhaps he's watching to see what Ellis and Jones do with the puck, but let's be real here: every damn time Ribeiro is on the PP, he is given the puck with the blatant expectation that he's going to set up a scoring play. Right? Yup. So I can tell you right now what Jones is doing with the puck without even looking: He's waiting for Mr. Turtle over there to hurry up and get in position so he can give him the puck. When the expectation is that you set-up the whole freaking power play, you don't just meander into position: you MOVE. Even if Jones does shoot the puck, a faster Ribeiro won't have overshot the net by too much and should be able to get there in a reasonable time.
And that's the end of my Ribs rant. Don't be a turtle, Ribs.
So Ribeiro finally arrives at his favorite spot and Jones (who is now being pressured because Ribeiro took for-freaking-ever) passes him the puck. Seriously though - go back and watch this part of the video quickly. Did you notice how the Duck forward pauses for a split second before realizing that Jones doesn't have an outlet, at which point the Duck hauls his butt up to the blue line? Yeah. And by the time Ribeiro gets the puck on his forehand, the Duck forward is already back and covering the passing lane to Craig Smith, who is hanging out in the high slot. In my opinion, a speedier Ribeiro could have avoided one, if not both, of those problems.
It is at this point that the biggest problem begins to rear its ugly head: NO ONE MOVES. Look carefully at each players' movements in this and in the next three pictures, Preds and Ducks alike. These pictures take place over a ten second time-span. That's a lot of time for them to do
something anything nothing.
In the last six seconds, Smith has pulled up into the high slot and Colin Wilson has skated down to the net and they are both standing and waiting. Everyone else is also eating popcorn and watching the clock tick down on this snooze-fest.
And it's an unfortunate situation for Ribeiro, because he has no one to pass to. He attempts to tell Craig Smith to back up a little bit by pointing and waving at him, but Smith doesn't seem to understand what Ribeiro wants and he just stays put. Smith has to know that Kesler and Ellis are behind him, so maybe he thinks Riberio is referring to them. I could understand the confusion, especially if Ribeiro isn't yelling so the Ducks can't hear him. Ribeiro judges that Smith isn't open enough for a pass, so he sends the puck up to Seth Jones instead.
Now: Colin Wilson. Dude has absolutely no obligation to hang out by the goal. He's a skilled player and he could cause a lot more chaos with some artful wandering of the zone, forcing openings by making Ducks cover him, than he will by just standing there. My guess is that he was just told to screen the goalie so he's doing it, but I wish he had been given more freedom. There's a lot more potential that way. If you want someone to screen the goalie on a PP, pull a Boston and get someone gigantic like Goose to do it.
The Ducks have to be loving this PP. The worst type of team to defend against on a penalty kill is the one that won't stop moving. It's exhausting. You're aware that there's one extra guy circling around somewhere, and while you hope one of your teammates is covering or watching him, you can't be sure because all five players keep moving and cycling and weaving in and out and around the zone, so it's hard to keep track of them and you can't stop moving or looking around or trying to cut off potential passing lanes because as soon as you do, Extra Man will strike! The PK is a sucky, miserable job. The best type of team to defend against on a penalty kill is the one that stands before you now. Literally. You don't have to do much of anything, so it's way easier to drain the clock.
Only one second has passed between this picture and the previous one, but Jones touch-passed Ribeiro's pass right back to him, so I had to include it because HEAVY ACTION ON THE POWER PLAY!
Ten seconds after we started counting down, Ribeiro FINALLY saucers the puck to Smith. Why did Smith suddenly back up and give himself a ton of room? Because Jones got close enough to clearly communicate what Ribeiro was struggling to tell him earlier in the play - back up! Smith makes a rookie-type mistake here which is why the puck ends up in his feet: he lifts his stick to call for the puck. As if Ribeiro hadn't been looking for him already. His stick is lifted when Ribs passes the puck, so Smith has to quickly drop his stick back down to catch the pass. Smith has got to know that a guy like Ribeiro is going to see him locked and loaded in the slot and that he doesn't have to call for the puck. Lesson learned, I bet. Anyway, once Smith gets the puck he has to adjust a bit to get the shot off, and then once he does shoot the puck, his stick breaks. Bad luck, HB :(
Wilson hasn't moved. Ribeiro has barely moved. Jones has barely moved. Smith just now moved. Ellis is checking in on things after his Adventures with Ryan Kesler, but he's ok. Both Duck defenders haven't moved since the first picture. The Duck forward has been moving in a very small area.
Aaand now everyone crashes the net.
What is it about this power play that was so ineffective?
The Preds gained control of the puck (luckily), Smith was able to get open, Ribeiro was able to pass it to him, Smith was able to get a shot off (despite breaking his stick)... What's the problem?
Well for starters, when the goalie doesn't have to move a lot to track the puck, you aren't going to beat him very often. Go back and watch Frederik Andersen. He barely moves at all, and when he does finally adjust to face Smith's shot, he has allllll the time in the world to set up. There was no way that shot was going in unless someone got lucky (or unlucky, I guess) and tipped it the right (or wrong) way.
Also, the most effective power plays get both the defending players and goalie moving and shifting and second guessing which offensive players are where and who is covered and who is not and who has the puck right now and who might get the puck next and who is open and ready for the puck and... You get my point. When the power play creates organized chaos, the defending players get tired. Tired players make mistakes. Movement and speed are critical to successful power plays. There wasn't much speed in this power play, and there definitely wasn't much movement either.
In the next article, we will look more closely at one of the Preds more successful power plays...