Analyzing the Pittsburgh Penguins Lethal Power Play

Analyzing the Pittsburgh Penguins Lethal Power Play
An in-depth analysis of the Pittsburgh Penguins power play that played an important role in the Penguins victory over the Blue Jackets in the first round.

So how many people really thought the Blue Jackets would beat the Pittsburgh Penguins? The Blue Jackets aren’t a terrible team but come on, they’re the Penguins.

But now that the series is over, I thought I’d take a look at the special teams data I’ve been collecting. The Playoff Data Project is still going strong as I have data from almost every first round game (except from those pesky EDM-SJ games where there’d be 12 penalties in a game) and I thought I’d take a break from tracking to highlight the Penguins power play and how important of a role it played in their victory. As you can imagine, the Penguins have had a very strong power play so far throughout the series but there seems to be a specific (and sort of obvious) reason as to why the Penguins power play has been so lethal.

Scoring a power play goal in four of the five games, Pittsburgh’s power play has scored five times with only 15 opportunities, good for second in the playoffs with a 33.3% success rate. In comparison, the Blue Jackets’ 16.7% success rate is ranked at a much more pedestrian 9th overall, only scoring two goals out of 12 opportunities. Let’s take a look at how the two power plays have been operating.

Carry% Pass% Dump% 0 Passes Before Entry 1 Passes Before Entry 2 Passes Before Entry 3+Passes Before Entry
PIT 60.5% 23.7% 15.8% 15.8% 65.8% 18.4% 0
CBJ 42.9% 39.3% 17.9% 10.7% 53.6% 28.6% 7.1%

Out of all their entry attempts, the Penguins have carried the puck into the offensive zone a whopping 60.5% of the time, compared to the Blue Jackets carrying in the puck only about 43% of the time. Columbus makes up for it though with their much higher percentage of passing the puck through the zone, as both teams have only really dumped the puck in around 16-18% of the time.

There does seem to be a bit of a difference between their tendencies of passing the puck before an entry though. Throughout the series, the Penguins have favored shorter, simpler entries, preferring to only pass the puck once or even not at all before entering the zone. In fact, throughout the entry series, they didn’t have one zone entry attempt where they passed the puck three or more times before attempting to enter the zone. In contrast, the Blue Jackets are much more willing to string together a couple of more passes, having a much higher percentage of passing plays with two passes and occasionally using three or more passes. This probably stems from the fact that the Columbus’ most preferred method of entering the zone was by first starting with a drop pass.

Dallas Cut Drop Pass Ofaceoff Regroup Transition Turnover Five Back
PIT 16.4% 23.6% 30.9% 7.3% 10.9% 5.5%
CBJ 7.1% 40.5% 33.3% 11.9% 2.4% 2.4%

*For the specifics on the types of formations, you can check out my first post outlining the project and going over the different types of entry formations I’d be tracking*

Just from watching the Blue Jackets power play you can tell that they heavily favor using the drop pass and it shows in the data, with 40.5% of Columbus’ entry attempts involving the formation. The Penguins did use the drop pass sometimes (about a quarter of the time), but they were much more likely to set up in the Dallas Cut formation than the Blue Jackets were.

This type of data alone doesn’t really show us what I initially posed though; why was the Penguins power play so much more successful than the Blue Jackets (with successful being defined as scoring goals)? It’s important to look at the different executions of both power plays like the passing styles and entry preferences but it’s also important to see how they perform once in the offensive zone.

Form Success % Avg. Time To Get Into Form Ozone Faceoff Win% Avg. Time to 1st shot att./ Entry Avg. Time

/ Entry

Avg. shot / Entry Avg. shot att. / Entry Avg. scoring chance /Entry Avg. goals/ entry
PIT 83.3% 7.8 s 58.8% 5.7 s 15.3 s .473 1.109 .636 .109
CBJ 81.5% 6.3 s 78.6% 7 s 17.3 s .619 .976 .333 .048
Success% Control% Avg. Time to 1st shot att./suc. Entry Avg. Time



Avg. shot /suc. Entry Avg. shot att. /suc. Entry Avg. scoring chance /suc. Entry Avg. goals/ suc. entry
PIT 89.5% 73.7% 6.1 s 16.5 s .511 1.196 .686 .118
CBJ 92.9% 75% 7.4 s 18.25 .65 1.025 .35 .05

Once both teams were in the offensive zone, there wasn’t too much of a difference between them. While the Penguins had a slight advantage in the average shot attempts they generated off each zone entry and time until their first shot attempt in the zone, the Blue Jackets had a slightly higher success rate at entering the zone and on average, generated more shots and zone time per each zone entry. The Blue Jackets also had a relatively equal success rate at getting into form, a higher controlled entry percentage, and a significantly higher faceoff winning percentage in the offensive zone*.

But where the key difference lies is in the scoring chances per every entry (and obviously goals per entry). While all the other stats were about even (or even leaned more towards Columbus), the Penguins demolished the Blue Jackets in generating scoring chances off the power play. While the Blue Jackets only created about .35 scoring chances per every successful entry, the Penguins almost doubled that with an average of .686 scoring chances per successful entry. The Penguins may have had about the same shot rates as the Blue Jackets but the quality of their shots was significantly better.

And in addition to this advantage in scoring chances, when you have guys like Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin, and Sidney Crosby shooting the puck at you from high danger areas, the odds are much more in your favor that the puck will go in the net. Every one of the Penguins power play goals was scored with Kessel and Malkin on the ice and all but one with Crosby. Here are four of the power play goals scored by the Penguins, all scored by Kessel, Malkin, or Crosby

Not all of them are even inside the home plate area but players of that quality are going to have a much easier time putting the puck in from those areas than more-average players. Columbus is a fine team and all but who do they have on their power play? Nick Foligno? Sam Gagner? When it comes down to it, the Blue Jackets didn’t have the same star power that the Penguins had and that made a huge difference with the man advantage. From generating more high-quality scoring chances and being able to capitalize on them, the Penguins’ power play was a crucial weapon in the Penguins’ arsenal that the Blue Jackets had a lot of difficulty defending.


*In case someone was wondering, I included this type of data because power play faceoffs seems to have a much larger impact than regular, even-strength faceoffs. Eventually I’ll probably do a whole separate post going over the data to see the difference in getting into form, maintaining possession, and other stuff between offensive zone faceoff wins and losses.

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