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Lack of Power with the Man Advantage: An Old Story and a New Coach

The Avs look to new Assistant Coach Ray Bennett to solve some chronic problems on the Power Play

Colorado Avalanche v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Avalanche power play has been a major source of fan grumblings for years but take a tour around the league and most fans feel the same way. Nobody moves, they never score, coach doesn’t know how to run a proper PP, etc. This past season the grumbles have merit with the team finishing dead last in the league at 12.6% and an anemic 30 goals with the man advantage. The Rampage were in similar territory for much of the year but got it sorted late to finish at a respectable 16.9% so this hints that there was a system issue that Eric Veilleux figured out and Army/Bednar did not more than anything else.

Before I delve into some less-quantifiable reasons why the PP found little success, there are some statistical telltales that were a bit if a surprise. I used shot attempt rates (CF/60) not because that’s a fantastic way to evaluate a power play but because it’s an easy way to compare team to team, player to team and player to player with the most events available.

Avalanche Power Play Shot Attempt Rates and League Rank
Overall - 81.61 (28th)
Down 1 goal - 100.28 (15th)
Tied - 83.78 (28th)
Up 1 goal - 61.94 (29th)

Two things stand out here. First of all, when down a goal they got it going just fine. Everyone goes for it when a man advantage happens and you can tie but relative to the league they were not as bad at generating shot attempts as in other situations. Second, they sucked when they were up a goal. It wasn’t just shot attempts either, shots on goal (30.97/60 min), scoring chances (20.65/60 min) and actual goals (1 total in 23:25) were atrocious. Aside from that, it’s nice to see that even though the Avs had the least effective PP there were teams that were even worse at generating shots (wingys, Habs).

So, was this a team philosophy thing or was it a personnel issue? The top 5 in PP time on ice were Mack, Mikko, Dutch, Barrie and Landy. Andrighetto probably would have taken Landy’s place if he had been around all year. These are all shot attempt rates per 60 minutes for the top PP guys in the same situations as above:

Overall - 92.33
Down 1 - 110.77
Tied - 85.76
Up 1 - 72.73

Overall - 90.97
Down 1 - 100.76
Tied - 99.52
Up 1 - 55.93

Overall - 83.04
Down 1 - 104.03
Tied - 81.82
Up 1 - 58.46

Overall - 87.61
Down 1 - 98.9
Tied - 83.69
Up 1 - 59.70

Overall - 89.21
Down 1 - 104.1
Tied - 103.64
Up 1 - 74.54

What it looks like here is that everyone is rifling shots at the net when down a goal. When it’s tied inexplicably Mack falls off a cliff and Barrie/Mikko get featured, then up a goal it’s basically Barrie and a little bit of Mack. Dutch and Landy hang right around the team average in all situations. I’m not up for another Duchene-bashing session but he was either criminally underused or totally out to lunch. Put this up against your eye test from last season and see if it matches up, pretty close right? As the Avs went from aggressor (down 1) to defender (tie, up 1) they got more conservative and it killed them. It was a feedback loop, the more they stuck around on the perimeter, the more they lost control of games.

What we don’t know is if this was something planned by the staff or if it was the players getting tentative because of the score. I’m going to go out on a limb and take Tim Army’s departure as at least a partial cause along with Jared Bednar’s defense-first philosophy. If this was just playing it safe then it’s tough to explain the uneven drop in shot rates between the top guys.

Just for comparison’s sake I looked at the Avs 5v5 CF/60 and it went from 57.14 down 1 to 51.56 tied to 47.38 up 1. The hot take here is that they became more tentative and perimeter-oriented as the score tended towards favorable and were not able to match up with opponents pouring it on. Even hotter take: they were being coached to fail.

Enter Ray Bennett from the St Louis Blues to help fix the Avs power play and the offense in general. Sounds like he has a lot of work to do, but perhaps not. As far as PP shot rates go, the Blues were very similar to the Avs last year but they managed to score 20 more goals (50 total) and convert at a 21.4% clip (8th in the league). There’s a talent differential perhaps, but the way to score on the PP is creating space and shooting lanes for your skill players. Chatting with our token Blues fan GRoberts, that seems to have been a solid part of the Bennett/St Louis power play philosophy over the years. The platitudes of “gotta get more traffic” and “gotta get more guys to the front of the net” sound good in principle but the key is getting defenders moving, preferably to places where they can’t defend very much.

At this point, Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Tyson Barrie are the stars on the power play. Ray Bennett and the staff can build around them with Landeskog, Andrighetto, Wilson, Compher, Jost, Barberio, Johnson, Duchene if he sticks around, and put together a couple of effective units as long as the proper coaching is there. It’s a good start, we need to see an increase of 60 goals over last year to have some semblance of a functional offense and the PP can provide 25-35% of that. What say you, dear reader? Is that a realistic target?