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.
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.