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Dissecting Bruce Cassidy’s Power Play System And Philosophies: Faceoffs

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Parts One and Two of this series focused on entries and in-zone play. So, we only have one place left to explore in Bruce Cassidy’s power play system, faceoffs.

**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.**

Now, if you know anything about me you are aware that I’m not a big believer in the importance of faceoff percentage. I truly believe that a terrible team at faceoffs, which wins about 45% has an equal shot of winning the game as an elite team winning them at 55%. No matter what you feel about faceoffs, the fact of the matter is that inevitably, you are going to win some of them.

When the Golden Knights are on the power play, and that happens, here’s what to expect from a Bruce Cassidy power play.

Defenseman to the center of the ice

When a draw is won cleanly back to the blue line, the first action Cassidy wants to see is the puck lugged to the center of the ice. The idea behind this is to establish the 1-3-1 setup as quickly as possible and instantly start attacking. Getting to the center of the ice gives the puck carrier multiple options that may be limited if he stays near the blue line along the boards. Finally, by bringing the puck across the zone, it forces the penalty kill to show their cards. The forwards have to make decisions on how much they are pressuring and the defensemen must decide if they want to collapse and take away the bumper and net-front players or fan out and cover the wings.

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

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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.

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Dissecting Bruce Cassidy’s Power Play System And Philosophies: Entries

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Coming off a postseason in which the Golden Knights sunk to nearly historic lows followed by a year in which they sputtered all the way through, improvement on the power play is one of the quickest ways to bring playoff hockey back to T-Mobile Arena. It’s not the only reason he’s here, but it’s certainly at the top of the list of why Bruce Cassidy is the Golden Knights’ new head coach.

Prior to the 2021-22 season, Cassidy graciously accepted the role of guest speaker as part of The Virtual Hockey Summit on TheCoachesSite.com. Cassidy’s presentation, which lasted more than half an hour, was called “Principals of the Power Play.” In the video-clip-laden presentation, Cassidy goes in-depth on every aspect of the power play including showing off a few drills to run in practice. He breaks down exactly what his units are looking to achieve and how he goes about teaching the players to get it done. It’s an absolute must-watch for anyone interested in the X’s and O’s of hockey.

(TheCoachesSite is a subscription-based site with a monthly fee of $15. The video is one of hundreds tailored towards helping coaches improve at their craft. Click here to subscribe.)

The presentation was so informative about Cassidy’s coaching vision that we are going to use it as the basis of a series of articles releasing over the course of this week and next devoted exclusively to the Golden Knights new power play.

In this, part one, of the series, we’re examining entries. What are Bruce Cassidy’s general philosophies on how to establish the zone on the power play and the systems he implements to do it?

The groundwork for Cassidy’s entire power play system is set up on a simple ideal that pertains mostly to entries but persists in every second his teams have the man-advantage.

Possession before position.

The idea is that all five players need to work together to establish possession of the puck inside of the zone before they head to their assigned positions in the power play setup. When Cassidy draws up entries, there is a role for every player that is separate from what they’ll be expected to do once the team is in the zone. He always wants players to present themselves as options to the puck carrier and work to areas that will help relieve pressure.

Not until the team has full possession of the puck and has broken any backchecking pressure are the players expected to do anything but support the entry. This bleeds into the next philosophy.

Always look to score off the rush.

Typically, we think of power play goals coming from neatly crafted passing plays, but in reality, many of them come before all five offensive players have even entered the zone. As a team comes up the ice to take on the neutral zone setup of the penalty kill, there’s typically an element of speed involved by both the puck carrier and at least one other offensive player. Cassidy’s approach is to look for scoring opportunities off these entries as there can often be a numbers advantage early in a possession.

Cassidy’s most common entry format (which we’ll get to momentarily) includes a player carrying the puck into the zone with speed, another flying down the opposite side of the ice, and a center driving the net. If the defense does not collapse to take away all of these options heading towards the goal, Cassidy wants his players to make the quick play and look to score instantly.

Next, is a simple math equation that Cassidy prefers while many other coaches do not.

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New VGK Coach, New VGK PP

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No matter who becomes the next coach of the Golden Knights they will have to address Vegas’ underachieving power play. Clearly, the man advantage was one of the reasons the organization missed the playoffs, and why Pete DeBoer was fired. It’s a cold world when your team struggles to net pucks 5-on-4. So, regardless of how it looked over the past two and half seasons the new staff will be tasked with fixing it by opening night.

Trotz has got a lot of interest there’s mo question to that. Additional to Philadelphia his list includes Winnipeg, it’s also believed to include Vegas and Detroit. There could be more. -Elliotte Friedman on Hockey Night In Canada

Last season the average power play efficiency was 20.61% with teams scoring on average 49 PP goals. The Golden Knights were below the cut line and totaled ten fewer goals than the league mean. Vegas ended up 25th out of 32 clubs and missed the postseason like all but one team below them (LAK). Had the Golden Knights performed to just the league’s average we’re probably breaking down a second round series or grieving a first round exit.

Most suspect the front office will hire a coach and staff that has had special teams success. Realistically, any candidate that performs above average would net Vegas an extra ten goals. However, there is a lot of expectations and pressure for the next staff. The power play has been under a microscope for some time now and it will continue to be scrutinized. Putting in simple terms, power play success could be a quick way to win over the fanbase.

Currently, the Florida Panthers are the perfect example of how an inept power play can severely damage a team’s pursuit of the Cup. One of the league’s best man-advantage units in the regular season is coming up empty in the second round. In ten power play opportunities the Panthers have one goal to show for it. Tonight, they’re facing elimination. A few conversions may have changed the trajectory of the Sunshine State series.

No one is expecting the Golden Knights to lead the league in power play goals next season but fans are simply asking for an improvement. Letting go of Pete DeBoer was a sign the organization desired an upgrade. Maybe it’ll be a simple strategy change or new offensive weapons. All the Golden Knights need is more production from their special teams to go along with VGK’s history of solid 5-on-5 play. If not, history will most definitely repeat itself.

Chronicling VGK’s Failing Power Play Overhaul

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Heading into the offseason, 10 months ago, the Golden Knights had one area they really wanted to clean up.

The obvious one is the power play, that’s at the top of the list to fix. For me the power play isn’t a this year problem. I didn’t feel it was dangerous enough in the Bubble, I thought it was mediocre. At the most important time in the Bubble as we went through to the Dallas series it got cold at the wrong time. We shuffled some things, put a new set of eyes on it this year and it stumbled again. That’s going to be the priority moving forward. -Pete DeBoer in June 2021

The front office felt the same way and they got to work instantly as the new league year opened.

Evgenii Dadonov was a player we identified as a priority. We had him ahead of all players that were available in Expansion. That effectively addressed the need of adding one good foward. -Kelly McCrimmon in July 2021

To start the season, DeBoer urged fans and media to be patient with the power play, calling it a work in progress and even going as far as to dissuade questions until we see it for a full season.

Vegas started the season 0 for 19 on the power play and the concerns grew larger and larger.

Again, the front office did not sit and wait for it to fix itself, instead, they went out and made yet another blockbuster trade, acquiring superstar Jack Eichel. Of course, though, he was injured, so once again, patience was required.

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Vegas’ PP Shows Success Against Conference Contenders

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In training camp, Vegas coach Pete DeBoer expressed patience and urged fans and media to wait until after the season ended to evaluate his team’s success on the power play.

If we go 4-for-4, I’m not going to tell you it’s fixed. And if we go 0-for-4, I don’t want you to say it’s never going to be fixed. Evaluate this at the end of the year. -Pete DeBoer on 10/10/21

Fair enough coach, but we can’t wait that long. We need something to overanalyze for another month or so, you know when Jack Eichel’s name is written in the lineup. So, let’s ignore DeBoer’s wishes for now and examine how the power play has performed against the Western Conference’s top teams.

It’s well known how shaky it can get for Vegas’ power play. The Golden Knights have gone on multiple game runs with PP success but then quickly it can switch back to hibernation mode. Eichel will undoubtedly help that. Statistically, you could argue that the Golden Knights PP has largely improved from the early stages of the season. In the first 25 games of the season, Vegas only converted 11 power play goals. Since then they’ve added 13 more, and had a nine out of an eleven game stretch of scoring one or more PPGs.

We’re making mistakes but pucks are going in to. -DeBoer on 12/10/21

As the coach eluded, Vegas’ power play isn’t quite fixed but it’s scoring and should only improve when certain players arrive/return. With that in mind, it’s truly unfair to use only this season’s numbers. So let’s combine the 2021-22 season with last year’s 56-game shortened schedule.

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Dissecting VGK’s Recent Run Of Power Play Success: Is It Sustainable?

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The power play. What a beautiful thing it can be when it is humming along scoring goals at a 30% clip, but oh what a nightmare it can become when it stumbles to an 0 for 15 mark in the Stanley Cup semifinals.

The Golden Knights’ power play will be under the microscope all season long and that lens will zoom in much further when we reach the playoffs. Obviously, it didn’t start out well with Vegas failing on each of their first 19 attempts but it’s come on strong in the month of December clicking at an impressive 34% (12 for 35) pace.

For me though, the eye test did not match the numbers as of late. There’s clearly no denying the fact that the pucks are going in the net a third of the time, but it still looked like a paltry power play to me at first glance.

So, I decided to go back over all 12 goals to see exactly what was there. How are they scoring them? Where are they coming from? Who is scoring them? The goal was to see if this is a fleeting run of success or not. The answer, of course, comes out somewhere in between.

Of the 12 power play goals the Golden Knights have scored in the month of December, three were scored by Max Pacioretty; all of which he shot the puck from the circle to the left of the goalie and all of which he received a pass from Shea Theodore in the high-slot.

These goals are definitely replicable, but also predictable, and thus much easier to defend when a team has a complete focus on stopping an opposing teams’ power play as they do in the playoffs. Nonetheless, Pacioretty’s shot is so dangerous, that even when you know it’s coming, he can still beat you with it. So, it’s definitely a weapon the Golden Knights have in the bag and one that absolutely can and will be a factor moving forward (when he’s healthy again).

Moving on, four of the 12 were scored by a player with either with a skate in the crease or within a few feet. It’s an old cliche, but it’s an accurate one, that to score goals in the NHL you have to go to the crease. Here’s the bad news, one was scored by the extra skater when VGK had their net empty on a 6-on-4 power play, and another was scored because a Kings defenseman seemingly forgot what position he was playing and completely abandoned the front of the goal to chase the puck. The goals are scored by a player standing in the right place (Reilly Smith both times), but they are reasonably unlikely to be something the Golden Knights can lean on due to circumstances. The other two in the crease came from Mark Stone, both of which are picture-perfect replicable power play goals.

The rest were scored from the slot area, two up top from defensemen, and two much closer in by forwards receiving passes from below the goal line.

I graded out the goals using a three-pronged option set. Each goal could be “very” replicable, “semi” replicable, or “unlikely” to be replicated.

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Golden Knights Adding Variety To Power Play Entries

I’m aware this is from a while ago, but how often do we get a chance to use a picture of Tom Wilson in the box and it kinda fits? (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights power play is, how do I say this politely, a… work in progress. They currently sit 30th in the NHL, connecting on 13.5% of their chances this season.

It’s one aspect of the game Vegas’ front office and coaching staff specifically targeted as an area for improvement this offseason. So far, improvement is not what we’ve seen, but recently, we’re starting to see some changes which could lead to a breakthrough.

Aside from numerous shifts in personnel, mostly due to injury, the Golden Knights have begun to mix up their entry strategies. Previously, basically since DeBoer took over, the Golden Knights have been reliant on the drop pass entry. One player, usually a defenseman, takes the puck from behind the goal, skates hard into the teeth of the penalty kill’s neutral zone set up, then wheels and drops the puck off to a teammate coming up behind him. Here’s what it looks like.

The idea is to first back off the defense, basically forcing them to either stand still on the blue line or retreat into the defensive zone. Then, the puck is laid off to a puck carrier with forward momentum and options spread across the ice. It’s a much maligned power play entry tactic by fans and media alike, but historically it’s proven to be the most consistently effective strategy both in gaining the zone and scoring directly off the rush on the power play.

The Golden Knights have implemented a few different wrinkles to the drop pass entry including having multiple options to drop to, quickly advancing a pass to the red line only to drop it back, or even occasionally using a double drop pass. But for the most part, this style of entry has been the primary style of attack the entire DeBoer era and most of the time before him. Here’s an example of a double drop pass entry that works brilliantly.

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Jack Eichel’s Business Sense Built For Vegas

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It’s rare for an NHL player to request a trade. But when you’re an upset 25-year-old franchise center being forced to undergo an undesired medical procedure, things change.

When he went to them with a trade request, they took it very personally. There are people that can say I understand that this is business and the people don’t understand that. Jack Eichel saw this is as business. –Elliotte Friedman, 32 Thoughts Podcast

Let’s face it, that type of acumen fits well with an organization that’s moved on from fan favorites, bought cap space for little return, and purchased the biggest names in the sport. We’ve learned early on in the franchise’s existence that it’s a fish or cut bait mentality. And there’s nothing wrong with that as long as they continue to make the playoffs.

Eichel had his own put up or shut up moment last offseason when he requested a trade.

The Pegualas saw Jack Eichel the same way the fans did as a US born savior of their team. When he asked for a trade they saw it as a betrayal… they were so hurt and so disappointed, I have no doubt it made the situation harder. –Friedman, 32 Thoughts Podcast

Eichel felt like he was doing his part but the Sabres organization wasn’t doing enough for him. Lack of supporting characters and a messy front office were bad enough but not allowing Eichel to chose his own medical procedure led to his cold but calculated demand.

He did a lot of research into the two surgeries and why one was better than the other and why he chose the disc replacement. It was almost like he was saying I earned the right to the make the decision. –Friedman, 32 Thoughts Podcast

In 375 games with Buffalo, Eichel registered 139 goals and 355 total points. Not only did he earn the right to make decisions but the Sabres ownership backed that up by offering an $80M extension in 2017. After handing over large sums of money like that, it would suggest the Sabres wanted Eichel to have a voice in the organization. The player felt it was taken away by barring him from a selective surgery or his choice.

Eichel credited all of his agents, I think over the last couple of weeks Brisson and Berry really turned up the heat. They knew they had a really unhappy client and they were turning up the heat anyway they could. –Friedman, 32 Thoughts Podcast

On top of his high end skill that will undoubtedly win Vegas more hockey games it’s the possibility of handling a pressure filled boardroom organization like the Golden Knights. Eichel has proven he’s willing to pause his career for what’s best for himself. Not many players would’ve held steadfast like the newest Golden Knight but he put himself first and the team second. And that’s completely fair.

However, when the surgery is done and his neck has healed, Eichel is strictly in the business of winning a Stanley Cup.

Power Play Futility Stat Dump

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June 6th, 2021, in the 2nd period of Game 4 against the Colorado Avalanche. That’s the last time the Golden Knights have scored a power play goal. Since, they’ve played eight playoff games and five regular season games for a total 826 minutes and 12 seconds of hockey.

It’s gotten so bad, and doesn’t seem like it’s going to get any better any time soon, I figured it was time to look up every power play stat I can think of so we have the answers ready as the streak continues and for the moment it finally comes to a close.

Because this is all so pathetic, instead of trying to make this a composed article, you get a series of bullet points.

  • VGK have started the season 0 for 11 on the power play.
    • 0 for 28 on the power play dating back to last postseason.
    • 19:18 of PP time this season, 34:03 in the playoffs last year for 49:21 since VGK scored a PP goal
  • VGK have recorded 43 shots on goal since last scoring on the power play
    • 20 this season, 23 last postseason
  • Current streaks
    • 0 for 28 (0%)
    • 1 for 36 (2.78%)
    • 2 for 41 (4.88%)
    • 4 for 54 (7.41%)
  • VGK have experienced 0 for 16 droughts twice, both in 2018-19
    • The first one was to open the season. They went six games without scoring a power play goal.
    • The second one was in the middle of the season, they went 6-0-0 while going 0 for 16 on the PP.
  • How many power plays to start season before VGK score (counting the one they scored on)
    • 2017-18: 13
    • 2018-19: 17
    • 2019-20: 1
    • 2021: 11
    • 2021-22: 11* (and counting)
  • Power Play percentages by season
    • 2017-18: 21.0%
      • Playoffs: 18.5%
    • 2018-19: 16.8%
      • Playoffs: 27.6%
    • 2019-20: 22.0%
      • Playoffs: 18.2%
    • 2021: 16.7%
      • Playoffs: 9.3%
    • 2021-22: 0.0%
  • Not only is VGK the only team to have failed to score a power play goal this season, but every other NHL team has at least 2.
  • The longest recorded power play drought in NHL history is a bit of a mystery but is believed to be 51 by the Toronto Maple Leafs
    • In 2014 the Florida Panthers reached 43
    • The San Jose sharks reached 41 in 1997

*If there are any other stats you’d like me to look up to add to this, please post them in the comments or tag us with them on social media.*

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