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A deeper look at the Blackhawks’ power play in different situations

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Digging into the Hawks’ power play numbers supports some interesting ideas about the unit.

Anaheim Ducks v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Over the past few weeks, I have been collecting data about the Chicago Blackhawks and how they’ve performed on the power play. Here you can find out more about the actual process, what I did, and more general findings and analysis but now I wanted to take a closer look at some more specific metrics that I tracked and see what effect they had on the Blackhawks.

How Situation Affects Play in the Offensive Zone

Situation Usage Success% Time to First Shot Attempt Avg. Time/ Successful Entry Avg. Shots/ Successful Entry Avg. Shot Attempts/ Successful Entry Avg. Scoring Chance/ Suc. Entry
Situation Usage Success% Time to First Shot Attempt Avg. Time/ Successful Entry Avg. Shots/ Successful Entry Avg. Shot Attempts/ Successful Entry Avg. Scoring Chance/ Suc. Entry
5v4 92.80% 90.90% 12 s 14.5 s 0.464 0.814 0.35
4v3 6.60% 90.90% 11 s 13.7 s 0.4 0.8 0.5

How Situation Affects Entries

Situation Usage Success% Carry Dump Ofaceoff Regroup Dallas Cut Drop Pass
Situation Usage Success% Carry Dump Ofaceoff Regroup Dallas Cut Drop Pass
5v4 92.80% 90.90% 61.30% 17% 36.40% 18.20% 9.10% 27.30%
4v3 6.60% 90.90% 85.70% 0% 31.20% 9.10% 20.10% 18.20%

That’s not a typo by the way, as both the Blackhawks 4v3 entries and 5v4 entries were successful exactly 90.9 percent of the time. Out of all the entries I tracked, though, the majority of them were 5v4 situations, with just 6.6 percent of the entries coming from when the Hawks were on a 4v3 power play.

For the shot attempt metrics, I’m not too surprised that the Blackhawks fared a bit better in 4v3 situations versus 5v4. The average shots and shot attempts per every successful entry were pretty much the same but Chicago did a much better job at generating scoring chances during 4v3 play. Penalties are much harder to kill with fewer players on the ice (because it’s more ground for each individual penalty killer to cover) so it makes sense that it would be easier for the Hawks to get better quality chances.

This also explains why Chicago would have averaged slightly less time in the offensive zone and average its first shot attempt quicker at 4v3. If it’s easier to generate shot opportunities with fewer defenders, it would make sense that the Hawks would be able to get off shot attempts quicker, leading to quicker chances for the opposition to recover the puck and force an exit. However, those differences were marginal at best and even the gap between scoring chances per entry isn’t huge between 4v3 and 5v4 power plays.

As for the types of entries, though, the situation had a much stronger impact on what type of entries the Hawks deployed. At 5v4 play, Chicago carried in the puck about 61 percent of the time and dumped it in 17 percent of the time. Yet at 4v3 play, they carried the puck in about 86 percent of the time and never dumped the puck in. The 4v3 sample (as you can imagine) is smaller than the 5v4 sample so the true dump percentage at 4v3 is unlikely to be 0 percent but the point remains: The Hawks’ rate of dumping the puck drastically decreased when it was a 4v3 power play instead of a 5v4 power play.

Instead of dumping the puck in, Chicago was much more likely to carry the puck in itself. This seems like the ideal option because during 4v3 power plays, there is much more ice to work with, making it easier to carry the puck over the blue line with possession. We already went over how much better it is to carry or pass the puck into the zone instead of dumping it in yesterday so 4v3 situations are probably more beneficial to the Hawks in general.

Carrying/Passing vs. Dumping

Speaking of dumping the puck in, I wanted to touch on one more thing before I moved on. After posting my first article yesterday, somebody asked me what the success rate was for generating at least one shot attempt per each successful entry for dumping ins. While I didn’t specifically track this stat, I thought it was a very good question and it was easy enough to calculate it using the data I had. After going through the data, this is what I found:

Success rate at generating at least one shot per successful entry for dump in: 17.6 percent

Success rate at generating at least one shot per successful entry for pass in: 44.4 percent

Success rate at generating at least one shot per successful entry for carry in: 50.8 percent

The Blackhawks’ success rate was almost tripled when they carried the puck in as opposed to dumping it and I thought this was another bit of interesting information to support the idea of carrying/passing the puck in with possession as much as possible.

InForm vs. Rush

Type Usage Time to First Shot Attempt Avg. Time/ Entry Avg. Shots/ Entry Avg. Shot Attempts/ Entry Avg. Scoring Chance/ Entry
Type Usage Time to First Shot Attempt Avg. Time/ Entry Avg. Shots/ Entry Avg. Shot Attempts/ Entry Avg. Scoring Chance/ Entry
InForm 51% 13.4 s 19.7 s 0.727 1.325 0.494
Rush 12% 4.3 s 10.5 s 0.667 1 0.722

Besides zone entries, I tracked many other things such as how the Blackhawks set up in the offensive zone once entering. Overall, they ended up getting into formation 51 percent of the time and taking shots off the rush 12 percent of the time.

When in formation (they almost exclusively stuck to a 1-3-1 setup), the Blackhawks on average were able to generate more shot attempts and slightly more shots than when coming in on the rush. However, when electing to shoot off the rush, their scoring chance numbers were much higher, averaging .722 scoring chances per entry as opposed to only .494 scoring chances per entry when getting into formation. And while higher scoring chance numbers are better, it was also interesting how much quicker the Hawks attempted a shot and were then forced out of the zone. When shooting off the rush, initial shot attempts should be coming quicker because you don’t have to waste time getting into formation, but the Hawks also wasted little time in the zone. On average, they only spent 10.5 seconds in the offensive zone when shooting off the rush compared to a nearly doubled 19.7 seconds when shooting from in formation. Considering the average shots on goal numbers aren’t much higher for in formation shots and scoring chances are significantly lower, it could possibly be much more efficient for the Blackhawks to take more rush shots during power plays. With only so much time during a power play, the Blackhawks might be able to get more scoring chances if they worked on getting shots off during the rush.

PK Form

Besides the Blackhawks’ formation, I also tracked what penalty killing formation their opponents used against them. Throughout all their power plays, the Blackhawks encountered five different penalty killing formations (six if you count out of formation as one):

The Box

The Diamond

The Triangle+1, which I split up into the Passive Triangle

The Pressure Triangle (or Czech Press)

The Rotating Triangle

How PK Form Affects Play in the Offensive Zone

PKForm Usage Time to First Shot Attempt Avg. Time/ Entry Avg. Shots/ Entry Avg. Shot Attempts/ Entry Avg. Scoring Chance/ Entry
PKForm Usage Time to First Shot Attempt Avg. Time/ Entry Avg. Shots/ Entry Avg. Shot Attempts/ Entry Avg. Scoring Chance/ Entry
Box 2% 15.7 s 17.3 s 0.667 1 0
Diamond 11.90% 12.8 s 22.3 s 1 1.389 0.611
Triangle+1 31.80% 13.1 s 22.4 s 0.791 1.563 0.609
-Passive Triangle 8.60% 9.3 s 21.9 s 0.923 1.846 1
-Pressure Triangle 23.20% 14.3 s 22.6 s 0.743 1.457 0.457
OutForm 47.70% 6.6 s 6.3 s 0.097 0.153 0.125
Rotating Triangle 6.60% 11 s 18.3 s 0.5 0.9 0.5

*Just a heads up, the Box Formation was only used against the Blackhawks three times so the data isn’t too reliable for it*

In normal 5v4 play, the Blackhawks mostly went up against some variation of the Triangle+1 formation but also saw a bit of the Diamond. Between the two, there wasn’t really much variation. Both average time to the first shot attempt and overall time per entry were almost exactly the same while the average scoring chance numbers were also almost identical. The average shot metrics weren’t as similar but were still close, as while the Hawks averaged slightly more shots per entry against the Diamond, they averaged slightly more shot attempts against the Triangle+1.

Where the really interesting part of the data is lies in the difference between the Passive Triangle and the Pressure Triangle, or the Czech Press. Across the board the more aggressive, dynamic Czech Press outperformed the less aggressive Passive Triangle+1, with average shots, shot attempts, and scoring chances being much higher against the Passive Triangle+1. The Blackhawks also averaged a much quicker first shot attempt, spending on average five less seconds to take an initial shot attempt when facing a Passive Triangle+1 instead of the Czech Press.

This is very interesting because after watching some of the penalty kills with a more passive Triangle+1 formation, it seemed it would perform much worse than the Czech Press, and the data confirms that. Being really aggressive on the penalty kill forces the team with the man advantage to have to make quick decisions and makes it more difficult to get into formation and take a shot. By backing off the attacking team and giving them space, you’re also giving them plenty of time to work the puck and an opportunity to shoot.

The only downside I was worried about for the Czech Press was the potential for the scoring chance numbers to be much worse for it than for the Passive Triangle+1. Even though the Passive Triangle allows more time and space for the opposition, I thought it would do a better job of protecting the slot and limiting quality scoring chances. However, the opposite was true, as the average scoring chance numbers for the Blackhawks were more than doubled when they faced the Passive Triangle+1 compared to the Czech Press. While I was a bit surprised to see this, it makes sense that, in general, when given plenty of time to analyze the ice and make a play, it will be easier to work the puck through the penalty killers and get off good shots.

How A 4-Forward PP Unit Affects Entries

Matt Cane has already done some good work looking at the effectiveness of using four forwards on the power play but I thought I would test it here in my data. For each zone entry, I tracked whether or not the Blackhawks used four forwards or just three forwards and two defensemen, with the data graphed below.

How A 4-Forward PP Unit Affects Entries

Y/N Usage Success% Carry Dump Pass Regroup Dallas Cut Drop Pass Five Back
Y/N Usage Success% Carry Dump Pass Regroup Dallas Cut Drop Pass Five Back
Yes 51.60% 87.50% 68.80% 6.20% 25% 18.80% 20.80% 33.30% 4.20%
No 48.40% 86.40% 55.90% 25.40% 18.60% 8.50% 35.60% 22% 13.60%

Out of all the entries I tracked, pretty much half of the time the Blackhawks opted to go with four forwards, with the success rate being about the same for the four-forward units and the three-forward units. However, there was a stark difference in how the Blackhawks chose to enter the zone based on which unit was on the ice. When using four forwards, Chicago carried the puck in the zone about 69 percent of the time while only dumping the puck in six percent of the time. But with three forwards and two defensemen, they only carried the puck in 56 percent of the time while dumping it in the zone over 25 percent of the time. It’ll be interesting to see if this disparity in entry type will affect the shot metrics in the offensive zone.

How A 4-Forward PP Unit Affects Play in the Offensive Zone

Y/N Usage Success% Time to First Shot Attempt Avg. Time/ Entry Avg. Shots/ Entry Avg. Shot Attempts/ Entry Avg. Scoring Chance/ Entry
Y/N Usage Success% Time to First Shot Attempt Avg. Time/ Entry Avg. Shots/ Entry Avg. Shot Attempts/ Entry Avg. Scoring Chance/ Entry
Yes 51.60% 87.50% 9.7 s 12.6 s 0.521 0.792 0.479
No 48.40% 86.40% 12.4 s 10 s 0.254 0.508 0.203

Y/N Usage Success% Avg. Time/ Successful Entry Avg. Shot/ Success Entry Avg. Shot Attempt/ Success Entry Avg. Scoring Chance/ Success Entry Avg. Goal/ Success Entry
Y/N Usage Success% Avg. Time/ Successful Entry Avg. Shot/ Success Entry Avg. Shot Attempt/ Success Entry Avg. Scoring Chance/ Success Entry Avg. Goal/ Success Entry
Yes 51.60% 87.50% 16.5 s 0.635 1.041 0.473 0.068
No 48.40% 86.40% 10.5 s 0.284 0.567 0.209 0.045

And would you look at that — the four-forward group blows the three-forward group out of the water. The success rate was about the same but when using four forwards, the Blackhawks averaged significantly more time in the zone, shots, shot attempts, scoring chances, and goals. There’s not too much else to say other than that it’s probably in the Hawks’ best interest to use four forwards when they’re out on the power play.

Takeaways

I’m glad I decided to break all the data into two separate articles (Ed. Note: make sure to check out the other one!) because again I’m already at 2000-plus words and there are a lot of interesting ideas reflected in the data.

For starters, the Blackhawks generally did a bit better at 4v3 instead of at 5v4, most likely due to the increased amount of open space available with fewer players on the ice. They also did well when opting to take shots of the rush, on average generating more scoring chances and getting shots to the net quicker.

There was also a huge difference in how the Passive Triangle+1 and the Czech Press performed, with Chicago being much more effective against a more passive type of penalty killing formation. And the Blackhawks’ four-forward unit vastly outperformed the three-forward unit. The only problem with the four-forward data might be that since the four-forward usually comprised of the most talented players, this could be the cause of the better metrics.

With the Blackhawks facing the Predators in Round 1, I plan on tracking the same data for the series and will hopefully have it published (with a similar analysis) after the round ends.