No two other words in hockey can give as much hope to a team that is down in goals as the words Power Play do. They bring life back to a team. Fans pound on the plexiglass or stand up in their seats, shouting out encouragement to their team below.
Power Play Definition
A power play in hockey is the result of a game infraction. A minimum of one player from the offending team serves either two, four, or five minutes in the penalty box, giving the other team a numerical advantage. This may also be described as the penalized team playing short-handed.
- A power play gives one team a numerical advantage due to a penalty given to the other team.
- There are different types of penalty times based on the infraction by the player, 2, 4, or 5 minutes.
- Four key strategies are typically used in a power play: The Umbrella Strategy, The 1-3-1, the Overload, and the 2-1-2.
Different Types of Infractions
Before we get into the details of power plays and the different strategies teams use, let’s look at the distinct types of infractions that can lead to a power play. First, let’s list the minor penalties, those that would cause a 2-minute power play.
- Contact to the Head
- Holding the Stick
- Unsportsmanlike Conduct
- Delay of Game
- Too Many Men on the Ice
In some cases, a minor penalty can turn into a major, double minor, or even game misconduct which would change the time of the penalty. The next list includes penalties that would result in a 5-minute power play.
- Holding the Facemask
- Instigating a Fight
- Checking from Behind
- Push-off (of an Opponent with a Skate)
- Leaving the Bench During an Altercation
Differences between Hockey Penalties
While both penalties require the offending player to sit in the penalty box or “sin bin,” as many like to call it, there is one key difference between the two. If the team with the numerical advantage scores during a minor penalty, the power play ends.
If, however, the team scores on a 5-minute major numerical advantage, the power play continues until the time penalized is complete. In the case of a double minor, each of the two minutes is treated like two separate minor penalties.
On the more severe side, game misconducts warrant a 10-minute penalty. In this situation, the team will not be down numerically. They will simply have to do without the penalized player. Once the ten minutes are up, he can return to the ice.
Offensive Strategies for A Power Play
There is nothing quite like watching your team on the power play and then wondering what the H.E. double hockey sticks they are doing. Sometimes they falter. Sometimes you have to yell at the screen, “Who’s power play is this?” But typically, there is some method to their madness.
The Umbrella Strategy
The first is the Umbrella Strategy. This may be the most popular technique used. And when you think about the name, it makes sense. It requires the power-play team to set their players up strategically so that their positions make the shape of an umbrella. Allow me to clarify.
Three players are set up next to the blueline of the attacking zone and form the shape of an open triangle. Next, the other two players remain low next to the goal line. This shape aims to get the puck to the middle of the ice and shoot from the point.
The players at the top of the umbrella are also trying to keep the puck away from the other team by passing it back and forth. The two players at the bottom have the important job of screening the goalie from seeing shots. They are also there to collect rebounds.
The players are not required to stay in the same spot either. They can switch positions with the hope of confusing the other team. This strategy is used because it has a great purpose. It keeps the puck out of the reach of the defending team, thus hopefully preventing a chance for a short-handed point.
I know this can be tricky to picture from words alone, so here’s a video to give you a better idea. Notice how they play keep away and use the half boards (the boards along each side in the attacking zone) to help get the puck where they need.
Umbrella Power Play Video
This strategic power play is a harder one to defend against. It forces the defense to concentrate on the middle player, which in turn, causes their penalty kill to dwindle. This technique originated in Europe and came over to North America around 2010.
I will jump to a video share before I explain more because this one is a little more confusing to picture. In this clip, Stu Grimson and Brian Lawton do a great job of explaining the setup of the 1-3-1. They also describe the middle player, as I mentioned above, as the bumper player.
As you can see, this technique allows for a different play than the Umbrella Strategy. The bumper guy acts just like a bumper in a pool table; he deflects the puck to another player and can change the point of attack.
This is a very effective strategy, but it requires the players to stick to their positions so that the bumper player can anticipate the play. It also expects the players are skilled with the puck and their passes. The bumper player may need to make a blind pass, and the receiver needs to be able to accept the pass.
The negative of this technique is that in this position, there is only one attacking player at the blue line. If, by chance, this player misses the puck or the defending players knock the puck out of the attacking zone, there is a high risk for a turnover and a short-handed goal.
The Overload Power Play Offense
The Overload is a strategy not used quite as much as the above two. It lines up the power play attackers along the half boards, intending to create three attackers to the two defensemen. In this situation, you want to create a lot of movement and consistent distance between the attackers.
Consistent distance means that if Forward 1 (F1) moves three inches left, then F2 and F3 need to move three inches left as well. You also have a player inside the box who plays the part of a shooter and a screener of the goalie. To better get an idea of what I mean, let’s watch another video.
Overload Play Principles Video
The 2-1-2 Power Play Offense
This one is also known as the Spread because it requires one of the forward attackers to spread to the other side of the rink. To make this work, the F1 and F2 need to push hard to the puck. The player playing the spread will be the one to take away the defense to defense (D to D) pass behind the net.
The attacking team leaves their defensive players at the blue line. This leaves them open for possible one-time shots. The three forwards line themselves up in a 2-1-2 position and outnumber the opposition in the slot (the area directly in front of the goaltender).
Once again, a picture paints a thousand words. Or in this case, a video.
The Kings execute the 2-1-2 Offense Video
As you can see, each of the above strategies has little nuances that make it work depending on the team’s skills employing the techniques. However, in some situations, it can leave a team weak at the blue line and create a turnover. This is not what the team on the power play wants.
Every fan hopes that their team uses their power plays wisely because ultimately, no one likes to be yelling at the TV as a short-hand goal is scored. The idea of a great power play is to weaken the other team’s penalty kill. Which one is your favorite?
By Danielle L’Ami
Danielle is a Montreal Canadiens fan and lives in Canada, cheering her team on whenever she can. Her three kids constantly have the numerical advantage over her and her husband.
You are on our Power Plays in Hockey page.
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