After more ups and downs than the Swiss Alps last season, the Dallas Stars power play has to elevate to the next level for the team to be true Stanley Cup contenders.
Yes, it can be argued that power plays don't really matter that much come playoff time (a la the Rangers this postseason). But to simply get to the postseason, there are going to be more than a few times where the power play is a game-changer. There's no way Washington would have been remotely close to the 8th seed in the East if they didn't have as potent a power play. It made a mediocre team shine with the play of Alexander Ovechkin on the power play and in many instances won the game for the Caps.
Now imagine a team with as strong a power play as the Capitals last season but with way better depth and defense. You should be picturing the Stars. I've gone through every single power play goal for the Caps and the Rangers to see how a lot of power play goals are scored. It's not just something you can wave your hand over and fix with a couple magic words, but there are some keys that can be applied to the Stars to make an inconsistent power play one of the most dangerous in the league.
Here are my top five suggestions to improve the Stars' power play.
SEGUIN AND BENN
It shouldn't surprise anyone that the Stars' power play should run through these two puck masters. Jamie Benn can dangle through a whirring fan blade and Tyler Seguin can score goals easier than he can seduce a girl with a smile (debatable, I'm sure). But it's not their talent alone that will take the man advantage to the next level; it's their positioning on ice.
Last season, Seguin hung around the left side of the net around the face-off dot for the most part while either Ray Whitney or someone else guarded the left point. A minor adjustment, but one that mirrors the system that Washington uses, is to back Seguin up to left point. Here, he has more space to make plays, opens himself up for one-timers, and can sneak down low on an overload to the right to bury the puck backdoor. Seguin is not much different than Ovi in that he loves to take a pass and blast a one-timer from the left side. The difference is Ovi doesn't play as deep as Seguin does and scores most of his one-timers from closer to the blue line than the face-off dot. To recap, show Seguin a lot of Ovechkin power play tape and have Val teach him Russian and the Stars are good to go.
In Jamie Benn's case, it's a problem to figure out where to play him because he is so good anywhere you want to put him. His wrister is one of the most wicked in the league, and with his level of stick handling, he should be the one charged with entering the zone to create a clean entry. Now the question is where should he go after he sets up in the zone? I could easily argue using him as a winger, but I think he'd be much more effective as a net presence. Fortunately for the Stars, trading away Alex Chiasson means they could slide Benn in there immediately and make him the guy. With his hand-eye coordination and size, he'll be able to deflect a lot of pucks and screen the goalie. He'll also be there to use his syrupy hands to deposit some goals in the net-front scrambles. To recap, shove Benn in the dirty areas and let him show off how much of a man he really is.
A huge key to any power play is the effectiveness of any shot coming from the points. Penalty killers are taught to lay themselves out to block a shot, which makes a defenseman's job way harder. Instead of actively looking for lanes and allowing the PKers to clog the center of the ice up, the d-men should be thinking one-timers. When they get a pass back from their forwards and have an opening to the goalie, they should forget about calming the puck down and just blast it towards the net. It gives the puck a much better chance of reaching the goalie or a friendly stick to deflect it past the netminder. It also keeps the puck moving, which is good because there's nothing worse than a stagnant power play.
Speaking of puck movement, it drives me nuts when fans start counting the number of passes before a power play shot. Puck movement and quick passing create gaps in the defense and confusion for the other team. When all five players on the power play touch the puck and a beautiful pass leads to a tap-in goal, I'd say that's the perfect man advantage. That's really hard to do, so after a lot of watching tape, I found that five passes is just about perfect. After that, somebody needs to be looking to get it on net. That ratio of passes to shots led to a lot of goals, especially for the New York Rangers (who didn't really have much more than defensemen to spark their man advantage).
When a team can have a second wave that still contains a couple playmakers and a goal-scorer, that's a really good thing. This season, Dallas will have just that. Spezza, Hemsky, Benn, Seguin and Nichushkin all easily can play on the top line of most team's power plays, and the Stars are fortunate enough to be able to break them up into two units. Top pair defensemen can't play the whole PK, so one of the PP units will get a favorable match-up, and if a team has equal talent on both units, it's a very dangerous situation for the opposition.
With the responsibility of one-timers comes the need for a decently powerful one. Well, the bigger the guy taking it, the more powerful the slapper, right? No one can argue that they would take Torrey Krug's slapshot over Zdeno Chara's, despite Krug being much more offensive-minded. The same goes for somebody like Goligoski or Gonchar. Sure, they might be a lot more of an offensive defenseman, but it doesn't mean they have a better slapshot than Jamie Oleksiak. The guy is a behemoth, so there's no reason why the Stars shouldn't plop him at the right point and tell him to blast away or feed Seguin.