The Magic Power Play

When it comes to scoring on the power play, two teams in the NHL are doing it like no others. Those two teams met last night in Nashville – both the Predators and the Oilers make the most of the shots they take on the power play, with Nashville scoring on 16.4% of its power play shots, and the Oilers scoring on 16.2% of theirs. No other team in the league is over 15%. With such lethal shooting, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Predators ranks first in the NHL with 21.6% power play efficiency, or that the Oilers are third overall at 21.4%.

Is shooting percentage a reliable foundation for a successful power play? Can teams, through strategic choices and superior talent, consistently take higher percentage shots? The answer to that question is important, since it will tell us whether Nashville and Edmonton should be able to sustain their excellent power plays, or if instead they’ll come crashing down.

Before I answer, I should point out that all of the above data is from 5-on-4 situations (in other words, what we’re seeing isn’t a result of a given team getting more 5-on-3 opportunities) and comes from behindthenet.ca.

Now, to answer the above question, I looked at all the teams over the last three seasons to have a shooting percentage of 15.0% or higher in 5-on-4 situations. There were six clubs in total – roughly two clubs per year manage the feat. Then I looked at how they managed the year after. Here’s what I found:

Team Season Season+1 Difference
2008-09 Philadelphia 18.1 13.4 -25.97%
2010-11 Vancouver 16.6 12.8 -22.89%
2008-09 Washington 16.5 16.2 -1.82%
2010-11 Chicago 16.4 10.7 -34.76%
2009-10 Washington 16.2 9.5 -41.36%
2008-09 San Jose 15.0 13.1 -12.67%
Average 16.5 12.6 -23.38%

The league-average shooting percentage on the power play over the last three seasons is 12.3%. In other words, these teams on average went from being the most successful shooters in the league one year to being perfectly middle of the pack the year after. The lone exception – the 2008-09 to 2009-10 Washington Capitals – had two good seasons by this count and then finished 27th in the NHL.

In other words, it’s quite difficult to attribute these awesome shooting percentages to skill and tactics, since they don’t seem to be sustainable. Some years, pucks go in on the power play. Some years, they don’t.

The Oilers have made progress in other areas – they’re 23rd overall in terms of shots/60 in 5-on-4 situations after three consecutive seasons of being dead-last in the NHL, and that does represent (modest) improvement. But if I had to bet, I’d bet against them being nearly this efficient on the power play next season.

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  • Dan the Man

    Mike Green of the Caps missed 33 games in 2010-11 so that would have a negative impact on their PP for sure. Probably not enough to account for a 41% drop but it would hurt them for sure.

    • Dan the Man

      I was just thinking the same thing, personnel will effect your PP a great deal. The other thing that occurred to me was coaching but off the top of my head I don’t think any of those team changed coaches in the years listed.

  • ” But if I had to bet, I’d bet against them being nearly this efficient on the power play next season ”

    why?? With the kids getting stronger, faster and better and with the chance of landing that #1 d-man in the off season? Starting with the negative all ready uh? to bad

  • The Farmer

    I would agree that first overall could be a bit of an anomaly, but we do have quite possibly the best power play quarterback in the league now setting up some gimme goals. Funny how before RNH was drafted the knock on him was ” he’s only good on the power play” Now that he’s good on the power play everyone wants to just write the PP off as a fluke. I say let him be good on the power play. It’s fun to watch.

    • Washington had Ovechkin, Philly had Carter/Richards/Briere, San Jose had Thornton, Chicago had Toews/Kane.

      I’m not saying RNH isn’t good on the power play – it’s manifestly obvious that he is. And as good as he is now, he’ll probably get better.

      But if you’re trying to figure out how good the Oilers will be next season – and you’re preparing your off-season shopping list – you’d better have a realistic idea of how good your PP will be. Realistically, probably not as good as it is now.

      It isn’t about being negative, it’s about honest assessment.

      • GLoKz0r

        Sigh, you know what Willis? I hate you. I hate you because you’re usually right. I’m not trying to pump your tires, I honestly always walk away from your posts thinking you’re a huge bummer. That said, I’ve learned to stop doubting you, even if you do always kill my buzz.

        This is why math sucks; it crushes dreams. Not to say I was the wide eyed idealist expecting this to carry on with the same fervor, but I had (apparently misguided) hopes that the inevitable decline wouldn’t be so severe.

        Keep at it.*

        *die