Pop-gun power plays dominating talk
CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency
|Dustin Penner, of the Los Angeles Kings, and Michal Rozsival, of the Phoenix Coyotes, go after the puck in the second period in Game 4 of the Western Conference final. (GETTY)
GLENDALE, ARIZ. - Looking around the NHL playoffs, a lot of the narrative right now is about how crappy the power plays are performing.
It's been a big topic in the Western Conference final, where the Los Angeles Kings are just 2-for-23 in the series going into Game 5 Tuesday night and both those goals came on 5-on-3 advantages in their Game 2 win. They are ranked 15th on the power play among the 16 playoff teams.
The Phoenix Coyotes are 1-for-13 in the West final, so the two have combined to go 3-for-36. It's probably no coincidence that the team that has scored on the power play has won the game.
"You know what, I take the high road there. It's won us a game," said Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter, whose team took a 3-1 series lead into Tuesday's game. "We've scored two goals and they scored one. You have to start fresh all the time with it. We're getting looks, we're getting zone time, you just have to get the screen or the tip for the rebound goal out of it.
"Again, it's a positive thing ... everybody looks at percentages instead of actual big goals. Teams that are still playing draw penalties."
Sutter thinks that skews the percentages and detracts from what's important: is your team winning the special-teams battle?
The flip side of all this, of course, is that the penalty killing has been outstanding. The Kings might stink when they have the man advantage, but they are also tops on the penalty kill (92.2%) in the post-season.
So maybe that's the other way to look at it. Maybe it's as much or more the strength of the penalty killing units rather than the quality of the power plays.
You can invoke a couple of the truths about playoff hockey here. Teams that make it this far have probably done it on the back of a hot goaltender and it's often said your best penalty killer is your goaltender.
Throw in the fact the teams are playing each other night after night, with great coaching and video work, so penalty killers are well-prepared. Also, everybody knows what's at stake and the work level and the willingness to block shots goes up.
"We put a lot of work into it as far as video and preparation," said Kings forward Dustin Penner. "The personnel we have on it understand what they need to do, what the other team is doing, how to counteract the other team's power play. As a group collectively, we hate to get scored on. It's focus and concentration, knowing what's at stake."
The fact is the overall penalty-killing efficiency is slightly lower in the post-season (82.4% vs. 82.7 in the regular season) but that gets dragged down by some teams that were eliminated early.
The stat that stands out is the New Jersey Devils had the top penalty-killing units in the NHL in the regular season at 89.6%. Going into Tuesday's game, there were four teams in the post-season over 90%.
"Sometimes it comes down to special teams, obviously, and we certainly understand our power play has to be better," said Kings forward Anze Kopitar. "Saying that, we've had quite a bit of zone time, we just can't connect and score goals. We've got to work on that. Simplify it a little bit, get more shots.
"I think our penalty killing was pretty good throughout the year, too. I guess we took it to another level in the playoffs. That's what you've got to do. We probably wouldn't have won as many games if our 'pk' wasn't as good. We've got to continue doing that."