Avalanche Power Play: Learning New Tricks From Old ‘Yotes

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The Colorado Avalanche power play has improved this season.

So far there’s been a lot that has gone poorly for the Avalanche, but I’ve written enough about that already. Frankly, it’s making me sad.

So today were going to look at a change to systems that I actually enjoy — the Avalanche power play now using a support man in the middle. Before we dive into specifics lets go over the basics of the power play that nearly every team in the NHL uses now a days.

The  1-3-1 Avalanche Powerplay 

The basic premise of every power play in the NHL is the 1-3-1, which is mostly as it sounds. There’s one player on the blue line lined up straight back from the net. He’s often considered the quarterback of the power play. He will have have a support guy on either side of him normally stationed at the tops of the circles on both sides.

Then there’s one player in the high slot lined up between the quarterback and the net. In this theory this player is there for a one timer, but in reality he’s most often just an extra screen. Lastly there is one player directly in front for screens and rebounds. Very poorly illustrated it looks like this:

Increasingly, and this is something the Avalanche made big, the guy in front of the net will drop to the side of the net to offer an option for a possible stuff play. Other than that the theory is the “QB” and the two supports will pass back and forth until a lane opens up and then attack.

What The Avalanche Have Changed

I’ll be honest, this one jumped right off screen at me because it’s what I coach, (and I’ll explain where I learned it). Essentially it’s a spin off of the Sedin’s amazing impromptu chemistry that the Arizona Coyotes then took and built into their system back when they had Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larson on their power play (and pretty much no one else).

What the Yote’s did and the Avalanche power play is now doing is using the high slot player as an outlet, instead of just as a screen or occasional one time opportunity.

So for example below notice how close Tanguay is to the player on the far boards instead of further back in the middle of the ice. What ends up happening is the high Bruins defender ends up attacking the puck while also taking away the passing lane to Tyson Barrie (the QB here). So the Avs hit Tanguay with a quick pass who then distributes it to Barrie with the entire left side of the ice open.

Credit: Altitude Sports

The interesting thing about the Avalanche use of the outlet is that they’re using it in a lot of scenarios. The one above is pretty stereotypical for teams that are now utilizing the high slot player this way.

This is why watching the game surprised me so much when I saw the play below, (taken only 20 seconds later). Here Barrie is going to Tanguay even though he has a clear passing lane to the outside on both sides. This is a bit odd because Tanguay isn’t truly an “outlet” if where he is going to distribute the puck is already open. Also, Tanguay is in no position to shoot here, so he’s not exactly an imminent threat to score.

Instead what feeding Tanguay the puck here does is create opportunities for both high circle support players and possibly even Tyson Barrie. Look at the Bruins players — they’re all about equidistant from Tanguay. There is nothing more confusing on the PK, where teams try to maintain as much structure as possible, than an opponent having a puck in the middle of the ice with no defined man to take him. Just by Tanguay having the puck the Bruins have to constrict to the middle of the ice, opening up shooting lanes all around.

Credit: Altitude Sports

Obviously this isn’t the sole reason for the Avalanche power play is the best in the NHL, but it has certainly opened the ice up more. In addition, having the extra outlet will destroy teams such as the Stars which tend to be over aggressive on the penalty kill. Only time will tell if it continues working in the long run, but so far it’s at least one positive to pull out of the season.

As always if you have any questions leave them below!

Next: Semyon Varlamov: Time for an Avalanche Goalie Change

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