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Dissecting Bruce Cassidy’s Power Play System And Philosophies: In-Zone

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

In Part One of our Bruce Cassidy power play series we focused on entries. Today, we move on to Part Two, which occurs after the zone is gained.

**Reminder: Much of the information highlighted in this series comes from a 36-minute presentation from Bruce Cassidy on TheCoachesSite.com called Principles of the Power Play. If you are looking for more detail than provided in this article, we highly recommend you watch the video in its entirety.**

Cassidy’s offensive zone power play setup is not uncommon in the NHL. In fact, it remains the most common setup across the league and was one the Golden Knights deployed under both Pete DeBoer and Gerard Gallant. However, Cassidy’s main focus on what to do inside of the system is slightly different than the previous two VGK bench bosses. We’ll start with the setup itself though.

1-3-1

Cassidy’s power play operates in a 1-3-1- setup meaning there is one player, typically a defenseman, on the blue line, three players across the middle including one in each circle and another directly in the middle of the zone, and a single player acting as the net-front presence.

Establish shot through the bumper

The most important player in the Cassidy power play system is the “bumper,” or the player directly in the center of the ice. The belief is that if the puck gets to that player it creates three advantages for the offensive team.

First, shots from the center of the house are the hardest to stop for a goalie. Most goals in the NHL are scored from the “house” or the “home plate” area which is in the shape of a house or a home plate (get it now?) drawn directly in front of the goalie. Click this if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

Second, when the puck is in the center of the ice, the four penalty killers must contract to take away shot lanes and space from the bumper. This natural action from penalty killers brings them further away from the boards, which makes puck retrieval much easier for the offensive team. Shots from the circles or the high slot without funneling the puck through the bumper first often lead to 50/50 races and/or battles to loose pucks on missed or saved shots. Cassidy wants to avoid this by forcing the killers to retreat to the center of the ice giving his players the advantage in retrieval.

Finally, working through the bumper sets up shooting and passing lanes for all three other players on the ice. The goalie must stay central in his goal which opens up a quick “bump” (get it?) pass out to the circles for a one-timer before the goalie retreats. Or, a multiple pass sequence can take advantage of the contracted penalty kill box to open up a tap-in goal.

Literally, every clip Cassidy showed in his presentation started with the bumper as option one. Obviously, other teams will know this, so the Bruins used it to their advantage in setting up other passing lanes when the play to the bumper is taken away. However, upon each pass the first option returns to looking for the player in the center.

Defenseman as distributor

Here’s the place where we will likely see the biggest deviation from what we’ve been used to on the power play in Vegas. Cassidy typically uses a defenseman as the one player standing out by the blue line and he always wants that player to be as close to the center of the ice as possible.

That player is expected to make the right decisions to help move the puck onto the sticks of the forwards who operate much closer to the goal. The high-slot shot option is always there for the blueliner, but it’s definitely not the first option as it typically was under DeBoer.

Personnel decides positioning

Cassidy is a big believer in tailoring his power play setup to the strengths of the players on each unit. In many cases that will mean each unit has a different makeup and therefore a different standard operating procedure in the zone. In the presentation, he spoke about deciding between having the players in the circles on their “strong side” or “one-timer side.” He also considers how many players remain on the same unit as their 5-on-5 lines, how many defenseman to use based on the danger of the opposition’s attack when the power play expires, and he puts a major focus on the handedness of each player in the three positions closest to the goal.

In Boston, he had an elite bumper in Patrice Bergeron and two stellar wingers in David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand. The typical setup called for Pastrnak to play on the one-timer side (which in his case would be to the goalie’s right) however depending on the tendencies of different penalty kills he would switch from time-to-time.

Movement from the puck or players

Another critical principle in how Cassidy views the power play is the importance of quick movement either of the puck or of the players in the zone. Quick puck movement is simple in that he practices moving the puck two or three passes before a penalty killer can recover just a few feet. This is something he harps on in practice and he likes to run drills with only a few penalty killers to train power play guys to quickly move the puck.

But, those options are not always there as a strong penalty kill, or even a weak but well-organized one, will often force the puck to slow down. This is where Cassidy encourages movement from players to open up seams and change the look of the defending kill. He went through a number of examples, two of which really stuck out.

The first is an exchange along the blue line. Often, when the player at the top of the 1-3-1 is holding the puck, his only option is a harmless pass to the circle which is quickly challenged forcing the puck back out to the blue line essentially just wasting time. Instead, Cassidy likes to use what he calls a “spread” in which the net-front player retreats all the way to the blue line to create more of a 2-3 look as opposed to the 1-3-1. Then, the “2” along the blue line run a “high-switch” in which the puck carrier brings the puck to the other side of the ice while the non-puck carrier rolls over to take his position. What this does is often forces defending killers to either contract to the center of the ice to take away shooting lanes or widen out as they each mark the player along the blue line. Either way, it creates a new look for the power play to attack, to which Cassidy’s system presents a myriad of options for the players to choose.

The other is a wrinkle off a play the Golden Knights ran a lot under DeBoer. The standard play is a tic-tac-toe passing sequence from the half-wall to the goal line to the low slot for a quick one-timer.

VGK ran this play over and over and over again with Mark Stone standing along the blue line feeding it into Chandler Stephenson or Evgenii Dadonov.

The drawback to this play though is that the player on the goal line is typically stationary or moving away from the goal as he retreats from his net-front position.

What Cassidy likes to do is a bit different. The player on the goal line is all the way back by the end boards, with the option to either hit that same play or carry the puck all the way around the goal to pass to either of his other two teammates. Look…

Movement shifts penalty killers and often takes them out of their typical shape, opening up new passing or shooting lanes for the offensive players. Cassidy’s system calls for this type of movement when it is not possible to get the puck into the center of the ice.

In part three of this series, we’ll examine the rest of Cassidy’s philosophies on the power play including how he likes to attack off a won faceoff in the offensive zone.

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20 Comments

  1. The Central Scrutinizer

    Wow! You sure know a lot about hockey? How did you get so smart? You should be working in the NHL you’re so smart!

    • Jailbird

      To: The CS. I’m not sure what to make of your long comment on Ken. I agree with some of it, for sure. But my curiousity wants to know, what are your hockey credentials? Thank you

      • The Central Scrutinizer

        Hi Jailbird,

        I began playing hockey at a very young age and was fortunate enough to play at a very high level (not pro though) that many others fail to achieve. I have also coached at various levels. I am a businessman and feel I have a pretty good understanding of the game of hockey as well as the business of hockey.

        My hockey credentials are quite frankly irrelevant though. This isn’t a dick-fight; this is about being a decent person and treating people fairly based on proven facts. I struggle with people who rely on a personal bias/agenda and that use assumptions and speculation to create false scenarios that they then promote to personally attack others and to self-promote.

        This is a great team with great players, a great arena, a great practice facility, a great fanbase in a great city. There’s no justification for the constant negativity. This team should be celebrated and supported, win or lose.

        Personally I hate trashing on Ken, but enough is enough. I thought I’d give him a taste of his own medicine. He should post his annual salary so we can all review it and see if he is, in our expert opinions, deserving of it or if perhaps he should be fired.

        Peace out!

  2. Ken – as stated previously sounds good – the magic word execution is the challenge. For years we have posted about net presence which for the most part vegas hasn’t done or at best is very reluctant to do so. Unless they change BC is going f to have a huge problem and the PP will be as useless as before. If the PP is the only reason he is here he better not buy a house to soon.

  3. THE hockey GOD

    not a big fan of 1 31

    those diagrams look like my table hockey game when I was 13, I can see see the dents on goalies face because they were all made out of metal.

    you tube The Russian Five – Tribute Compilation
    4,413 views Dec 18, 2021

    • Thg – look at the bright side it couldn’t be any worse than what we have experienced in the past. You don’t even like the Russians so why keep bringing them up. Vegas unfortunately is more about watching than doing.

      • THE hockey GOD

        i hated the russian red army
        i liked the russian five
        i hate the current day Russian putin sympathizers, they should be banned from NHL and sent packing to the Ukraine if they don’t have cajones to stand up to adolf.

        it’s really not that complicated, BTW I was never a big Bobby Clarke fan, even though he broke ankles of Kharlamov.

  4. Tim

    It has to do a lot with personal I couldn’t figure out for the life of me why at times they had Kolesar on the PP. Your paying your heavy hitters big money and they should always be involved with the PP. It only makes sense using you best offensive shooters you have to rack up points.

    • THE hockey GOD

      Tim
      for the same reason GG put REavo on the PP, it’s not that complicated.

      • Tim

        THG where we differ is I’m into athletes with skating and shooting ability and putting Reaves on the PP or Kolesar is playing one man short. Everyone has an opinion but with scoring being difficult in the NHL it only makes sense to take advantage of the PP. We haven’t had one for so long so I’ll have to disagree with you putting players who have NO chance of scoring on the PP seems like defeating the purpose.

        • THE hockey GOD

          so reavo isn’t an athlete ??

          once again you jump to conclusions, putting words into my post that isn’t there.

          I remember the red wings had demolition man on their PP. I suppose he wasn’t an athlete either ?

    • In the 90s when a PP struggled they would put a goon in the slot for “presence”. Disgusting and crude.

  5. THE hockey GOD

    what’s a central scrutinizer ? WAsn’t that a character in Felix the Cat cartoon ?

    • JV

      It was the narrator between songs on Frank Zappa’s ” Joe’s Garage” Acts I II and III.

  6. Blitz

    Just my thoughts as a non x’s and o’s guy, but a watcher of alot of hockey.

    The number one thing I hated about the PP last year was just how slow and telegraphed the passing was. Even at times when someone made a nifty pass the receiver would almost always gather the puck first, giving the goalie time to recover. Or the pass was bad and the receiver would have to gather again giving the goalie time. One-timers, not to the point, were rare. One-time-passes (or quick tic tac passing) was not a thing. And finally the bumper position was always smothered with defenders and never open. Like never!

    Personally I think this group of guys are weak passers and that is a reason the PP just was lame. Eichel is good and the addition of Kessel will hopefully help this out. I thought Petra was one of the worse puck receivers of the group. He always gathers the puck.

    Watching other teams tic-tac-toe pass, getting guys in space, and nifty cross crease passing etc gives me hope things can improve for this group, but again personal and passing ability of the group might be an issue here. I hope it can at least get to league average.

    • Vic

      Once again, you are spot on.

    • Blitz, I thought PDB’S coaching style was SLO MO HOCKEY. Slow, predictable, calculated, ever- repeated plays. Guess the name Pete DeBORING fit perfectly. We were more of a run- and- gun team under Gallant, made for exciting hockey for sure…hope we get some of that excitement back!

  7. Chuckles

    Problem with signing 8-10 million clubbers. Team isn’t offset with many good depth players. This not as formidable team on paper. We shall see though. Realist when it comes to the program after last two seasons. Like Thompson and Brossoit for now. Lehner get healthy. Flower and Patches gone. Two faves we move on. Hoping some youth comes around. With injuries last year. Finally able to look at some of Henderson guys. Was here for Thunder certainly Wranglers. Both good organizations for non NHL.

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