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Viveiros’ strategy on the power play

Manny Viveiros was an electrifying offensive defenceman in junior with the Prince Albert Raiders. In his draft year, at 17 years of age, he produced 15-94-109 points in 67 games. He scored 17-71-88 the following year and 22-70-92 in 57 games as a 19-year-old. In his second pro season in the now-defunct International Hockey League (IHL, similar to the AHL) he produced 63 points in 57 games.

He knows offence, and after playing and coaching in Europe for 25 years he returned to Canada and was the Head coach and GM for the Swift Current Broncos in the WHL. Viveiros has always had a great understanding of the game, especially on offence, and when the Oilers hired him to be an assistant coach, head coach Todd McLellan quickly announced that Viveiros, along with Glen Gulutzan, would be overseeing the powerplay.

The Oilers PP was 31st in the NHL this season, after finishing 5th in 2017. With basically the same key players, the powerplay struggled, but having Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and others returning this year, the powerplay should be close to the top again with some simple corrections.

Enter Viveiros.

Good coaches put players in positions to succeed, and it is no different when allocating responsibility to your coaches. Viveiros should be involved in the powerplay and McLellan wisely hired him with that in mind.

Yesterday on my radio show, I spoke with Viveiros about many things, and I wanted to get his thoughts on the power play specifically.

Having played and coached in Europe for so long did he see anything different in how they ran a powerplay?

“A couple breakouts, and the ice surface is a lot bigger so you can implement a few different entries coming into the zone or some set plays in the zone,” said Viveiros. But you can also modify that to work on the North American ice surface and that is something I experimented with in Swift Current my first year there.

“At the end of the day, hockey is hockey and no one is inventing the wheel so to speak, as far as something new coming up, but for me and my staff in Swift Current, the biggest thing was being able to adapt. If it didn’t work, we would change it and keep experimenting. We involved our kids quite a bit as far as what we were doing, to make sure they were involved. They are the ones who are doing it, they are the ones seeing it on the ice and we are the ones on the bench who see it completely different a lot of the times.

“They had their input, within our structure, but a huge input into what we were doing,” said Viveiros.

It is vital to have your players understand the structure, but they also need to believe in it. Incorporating them and asking their thoughts is wise, because what you see on video isn’t always the same as what the puck carrier sees on the ice.

The Oilers struggled to get their power play back on track once it started struggling in late November. I found the coaches stuck with the same unit for too long, but I also noticed the players were a tad stubborn in their approach. They kept trying to do the same thing, rather than adapting and evolving.

Viveiros continued to share his thoughts on what makes a powerplay successful, but also the challenges it faces over the course of a season.

“Tendencies are very natural I’ve learned over the years, and when a powerplay gets static and they don’t move around as much that is when you get yourself in trouble. There has to be movement on the powerplay, instead of guys always stuck in one position at all times. Certainly, everyone has their favourite spots, but a powerplay does have to have the flexibility to move around and guys know where they are in different positions,” said Viveiros.

Then he added this important nugget.

“But the powerplay does have to outwork the penalty killing unit. You know how hard those four other guys will work on the ice, so if you get the five guys to out battle, as far as loose pucks in corners, or in front of the net, or even coming into the zone that is where you take advantage of the extra man,” Viveiros said.

For long stretches last year I felt the Oilers simply didn’t match the work ethic and commitment of the opposing penalty killers. It is natural to sit back a bit because you have an extra player on the ice, and combined with their frustration from not scoring, there were times the Oilers work ethic was their biggest weakness.

Viveiros has a reputation of being a good communicator, so I asked him what was his messaging to the players to ensure his team’s powerplay work ethic matched the work ethic of the penalty kill?

“It was a point I’ve always stressed. When things didn’t go particularly well on the powerplay for a couple games we usually just looked at video and said, ‘guys they are outworking us.’ Once you talked to the kids about it and showed them on video, they could see it themselves, they would usually ramp up their energy level or work level on the powerplay,” said Viveiros.

But the coaching doesn’t stop there, because even when you have success on the powerplay there will be lulls.

“It is ironic, when powerplays do have success and are going well – we used to find in junior and in the pro level Europe – that once things started working well they started to get a little too fancy and tried making the pretty plays.

“The power play isn’t all about making the fancy plays. A lot of it is just getting pucks towards the net and having guys in the right position, good positions to shoot the puck and that’s something that once you simplify it, and not make it so complicated it makes having success much easier,” continued Viveiros.

The Oilers powerplay biggest flaw was their ability to finish. They had a league-low 31 goals, despite averaging the 12th most shots on goal, and according to Natural Stat Trick, the Oilers were 10th in scoring chances/60. In 2017 the Oilers were 8th in shots/60 and first in scoring chances. So the tweaks to their powerplay don’t need to be massive, but Viveiros experience and understanding of the powerplay should be a welcome addition.

Viveiros will start watching video right away, and he will look at almost every powerplay the Oilers have had the past few seasons.

But how much can he glean from video? How much of it is watching film, and then how much of it is talking to players to understand what they saw on the ice?

“That is a great point. I totally agree. You can watch as much film as you want, but until you actually talk to the people who are making the decisions on the ice, and what they are doing and what they are thinking, it is almost impossible to have a fair evaluation or opinion from that.

“It is important to talk to the players who are in those positions. Some times we see something completely different from the bench or up top, from what the players see on the ice. Numerous times when I was behind the bench and I’d ask a player, ‘why did you do that,’ and he says ‘this is what I saw,’ then I’d respond, ‘Okay good that is fine, because I saw something completely different.’  It can be a double edge sword, and you have to be very careful at times in making an evaluation or having an opinion without talking to the person,” said Vivieros.

Vivieros was very excited to have the opportunity to work with McDavid and Draisaitl and the other skilled Oilers, and they should be equally excited to work with a coach with a history of overseeing very successful power plays.

CHANGE FROM YEAR TO YEAR

From 2017 to 2018 the Oilers PP had the largest decrease in efficiency in the NHL, but we also some teams have significant increases.

Here are the changes from all 30 teams (Vegas wasn’t in the league in 2017) on the PP from 2017 to 2018.

The columns represent the following.

Chances: PP chances this year compared to last +/-
PP: The change in PP% from this year to last +/-
PP%: This year (you can see previous year by add/minus the PP column)
Goals: Increase/decrease in PP goals this year to last +/-.

TEAM PP chances PP IMP PP% Goals
COL

57

9.3

21.9

35

NYI

16

8.3

23.3

23

VAN

20

7.3

21.4

21

WPG

10

5.2

23.4

16

NJ

1

3.9

21.4

10

SJ

11

3.9

20.6

12

PIT

0

3.1

26.2

8

DET

-18

2.4

17.5

3

NSH

16

2.3

21.2

9

FLO

-16

1.9

18.9

2

BOS

15

1.8

23.5

8

MTL

16

1.5

21.2

7

DAL

-13

1.4

19.3

1

LA

-1

1.3

20.4

2

PHI

-18

1.2

20.7

0

TOR

-20

1.2

25

-2

TB

4

1.1

23.9

4

NYR

8

1

21.2

4

CAR

8

0.7

18.4

3

ARI

8

0.7

16.9

3

OTT

-6

-0.4

16.6

-2

WSH

-3

-0.6

22.5

-2

MIN

16

-0.6

20.4

2

ANA

-37

-0.9

17.8

-9

CHI

36

-2

16

1

CBJ

16

-2.7

17.2

-3

CGY

12

-4.2

16

-9

BUF

24

-5.4

19.1

-8

STL

11

-5.9

15.4

-12

EDM

-35

-8.1

14.8

-25

The Avalanche scored a whopping 35 more PP goals, while the Oilers scored 25 fewer PP goals. The Avalanche had a staggering 57 more PP opportunities, and if I’m the Oilers I watch their film to see what they did to generate so many calls. Only Columbus (438) has had fewer PP chances than the Oilers (455) over the past two seasons. Tampa Bay had the most at 548 with Winnipeg and Philadelphia second with 538. Those teams are averaging over 1/2 a PP per game more than the Oilers. Edmonton needs to look at what officials are calling and see if they can generate more powerplay chances next season.

ULTIMATE SPORTS FAN

My eighth annual Ultimate Sports Fan package in support of charity is here again. On June 9th and 10th, I am riding in the 190km MS Bike Tour, and I’ve come up with a pretty good package for the diehard sports fan.

Here’s how it works: You make a $125 donation and you get one entry. If you make a $250 donation you get two entries, and so on.

We only take 100 entries and we will raise $12,500 for MS. The draw will be the week of June 5th.

This year’s winner will win the following prizes and more.: The final package is valued at over $6,000.00

  1. The “Oilers experience” at the Oilers home opener in October, which includes tickets, parking, dinner and a behind the scenes tour.
  2. A pair of Edmonton Eskimos season tickets in the lower bowl.
  3. A game used Ryan Nugent-Hopkins stick.
  4. A signed Mike Reilly Eskimos jersey (you pick the size) courtesy of The Sports Closet.
  5. Twenty tickets, and a hot dog and beverage (non-alcoholic), to an Oil Kings home game. Also, you will get an Oil King player of your choice to come to your backyard rink or minor hockey practice for an hour. (Between November 1st and December 15th.)
  6. Ten tickets to the Rugby match Canada v. Scotland on Saturday, June 9th at Commonwealth presented by MB Events.
  7. A signed Matt Barzal jersey
  8. $500 GC at Match Eatery and Public House (either location).

We are already 79% sold out, so if you want a chance to win and help end MS get in the draw today.

You can make your donation here. (click Donate Now to the right of my picture).

Thank you and good luck.

Recently by Jason Gregor:

  • puckle-head

    Hmm, I’m excited to see what Viveros can do, but I’m a little disappointed he didn’t discuss his plans beyond communicating with the players better, and outworking the opposition. I suppose it was silly of me to expect a new hire to have a comprehensive Oiler specific plan in place (and be willing to blab it to the media no-less), but I would be really interested in learning the tactics he plans to employ. How does he think the Oilers can take advantage of all the excellent passers they have? How will the lack of pure shooters on the team effect their strategy? Does he want to overload the 1PP unit, or spread the talent around? etc

    • Big Nuggets

      I would like some experimentation rather than trying to follow a formula that worked in the past with different players. We have the best offensive weapon along with Drai and Nuge who are both great passers. Put them all out together and find something what works for them. I like Vivieros’ idea of giving the players some input into the strategy. I don’t know if that is widely practiced throughout the league but I think it is a great idea, but would only work with excellent communication between players and coaches.

  • Rama Lama

    I wish him the best of luck………teaching the PP units to shoot the puck would be a good start. Last year they seemed content to perimeter pass the puck for the full two minutes with no shots taken. If this guy can implement the odd shot into the equation then I say the PP will improve on it’s own. It’s not rocket science…….no shots taken result in no goals! I saw too many passed opportunities, even when there was a lane open……..perhaps a shoot first mentality from the back end would help?

    I do like his comment on having guys move around and not be static on the PP.

  • toprightcorner

    I really liked Dellow’s article at the Athletic on the Oilers PP woes. It said a lot about the lack of player movement, especially to Dman up high and Viveiros also said that successfull PP’s have players that dont stick to the same spot but that move within their area or outside their area, both with and without the puck. I highley recomment Dellow articel

    • How are you comparing a full time NHL head coach to an assistant coach who’ll be in the pressbox for 2/3 periods? He can’t really do anything other then talk when you consider the offseason hasn’t even started

      • Serious Gord

        Never said there was anything he could do other than talk at this point in time. That’s why I’m putting very little import on what he says. I cite Eakins because I remember how glowingly and without criticism he was recieved. And I’m amazed that these three new coaches are getting such a criticism-free reception. Fans and media seem to have learned nothing.

        • Oil4Ever

          The three new coaches are all smart hockey men, and I look forward to seeing what impact they will have on the team’s performance. That being said, I’m not over-hyping them or planning the parade. I simply choose to be cautiously optimistic. As for a lack of criticism, they haven’t actually done anything yet, hence there is nothing to criticize yet!! If you want to criticize these men based on the past then go for it, that’s your choice. But wow I get sick of the negativity. There is still work to be done, but these were solid hires. You really need to get laid dude.

        • I thought Eakins was a bad idea, I am sure a lot of other fans did as well. We knew we were correct as soon as that season started. I still think until the 3 stooges are fired properly, it wont make a difference anyhow. I am negative on here quite a bit as well, but these all look like solid hires to me.

        • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

          Maybe becuase 2/3 really have nothing to be criticized for? Sure, Gulutzan had his issues, but he was also strapped with a injured, one-line, one-goalie team and paid the price. Yawney has a record of helping to develop solid NHL D-men, and running a successful PK. Viveiros coached a successful PP in Swift Current AND help them get to the memorial cup.

          These have only just been hired and you’re already crawling up their ass with negativity.

  • Dr. Merkwurdigliebe

    If the power play can be top 5 again, that would go a long way to seeing the Oilers back in the playoffs. The fact McD still won the Art Ross with the lowest ranked power play is a testament to his abilities. The fact that it was the lowest ranked power play with McD on the team is an indictment of the previous coaching staff. Get on it.

  • Beer_League_Ringer

    I am no coach, but this is what I saw from Swift Current’s PP in the WHL playoffs:
    – puck retrieval after shots
    – 2 sometimes even 3 attackers on one defender below the hash marks
    – constant movement to create go-nogo decisions for opponents (mistakes)
    – puck support. The player with the puck always had at least 2 options
    – use of the points, movement at the points, making defenders skate out to cover before making a play (if not taking a shot)
    – Swift also had some pretty nice set plays (they looked like set plays to me) and they seemed to run them when the defending group was tired.

    I’m not saying it’s easy, but good gawd… Connor, Leon, RNH, Klef, a pest in front of the net, and the above points? Lethal.

    Get er’ done boys.