During an off season that included Tampa Bay resigning its two biggest pillars to eight year contracts, one of the most subtle of moves may in fact pay the biggest dividends.
Photo By Dirk Shadd
Tampa Bay hired Todd Richards as not only an assistant coach but as a special teams coach as well. Richards was the head coach of two NHL teams prior to his current position with Tampa Bay. With the Minnesota Wild, in the 2009-2010 season his team posted a 7.24 GF/60(Goals For Per 60 Minutes) on the power play. In 10/11 the Wild posted a 6.92 GF/60. These numbers ranked eighth and eleventh respectively. Richards moved on to the Columbus Blue Jackets and in his first full season as head coach, had them in the top ten in the league in GF/60 on the power play with 7.04. In his final season in Columbus, the Blue Jackets ranked 5th in the NHL with a whopping 7.98 GF/60. Mind you, none of these teams were offensive juggernauts. Certainly none of them compared to the offensive talent that Richards has at his disposal here in Tampa Bay.
What does all of this mean you may ask. Well, basically it means Todd Richards has a pretty good idea of what it takes to score goals on the power play. Something that has been a bit of a bugaboo for the Tampa Bay Lightning in recent seasons.
For Part 1 of this series, I will begin where every good power play begins; the zone entry. While, like most teams, Tampa Bay uses a variety of zone entry plays that are both set and improvisational, I’d like to break down the newest addition to the arsenal: The Double Trailer Drop Pass(DTDP) controlled entry.
Before getting to it, lets quickly talk about a couple of other entries that most teams, including Tampa Bay, use. A common dump and chase which has been proven to be least effective for actual setup and zone time, yet is sometimes necessary. A Single Trailer Drop Pass which is relatively effective but limits passing options and entry points. And lastly, the single player carry in which is a controlled entry by one player gaining the blue line.
Teams that use this single player carry in tactic normally have a player of superb stick handling ability to use it to it’s full advantage. Tampa Bay has called upon Jonathan Drouin here and allowed him to be that guy. In return, Drouin has performed exceptionally well in the role. Here are a couple of quick single player carry entries by Drouin to give you a visual.
The above zone entries are perfect for keeping possession of the puck and being able to set up the power play inside of the offensive zone. These single player carry in plays are mostly improvisational however, and can sometimes run into a dead end if the other players on the ice don’t read and react to what the carrying player is doing. That is where a structured set play entry becomes favorable. In this case the new look entry the Lightning are using consistently is the Double Trailer Drop Pass. Lets take a look at the full entry and then we can break it down into segments.
As you can see above, this entry has a lot of moving parts. It also allows for a clean, easy entry into the zone with plenty of options to set up. So how does it work? Glad you asked. Lets start with Stralman pushing the puck up the ice.
There are a few things to note here. The first of which is Stralman beats the first forechecker. This is key as that immediately breaks down Detroit’s coverage to being a 3v3 ahead of Stralman and a 2v1 behind him.
In the above screenshot, you can see the highlighted Tampa Bay players along each side of the boards on the blue line. Both Namestnikov on the bottom and Stamkos on the top have key parts in this entry. Another important factor to notice is that Stralman has sucked Detroit’s coverage almost entirely to his side of the ice, as seen below.
With three of the four Detroit penalty killers on the puck side of the ice, Tampa Bay has this zone entry set up beautifully. Watch what happens in the next segment.
Stralman makes a little pass to the waiting Namestnikov who then quickly one touches it back to the trailer on his side of the ice. Namestnikov has the option of simply entering the zone after receiving this pass, but reads the play correctly and makes the drop pass to the trailer. After making the pass, Stralman continues to attack the blue line, bringing both of the Detroit back checkers with him. This pass to Namestnikov also forces the Detroit defensemen on both sides to back off the blue line in anticipation of the zone entry coming on that side.
Tampa Bay has successfully created the space they need to have a controlled entry. As you can see, there is a good five to eight feet between the blue line and the closest Detroit defender. I know, I know. You are thinking to yourself: “What about the lone Detroit player still in the neutral zone”. In return I say “That little guy? Don’t worry about that little guy”, as you’ll see in the next segment.
Palat receives the drop pass from Namestnikov and has a decision to make based on what he sees. He can carry the puck in himself, or if the entry is executed so well that the entire other side of the ice is wide open for the taking, he can make a simple cross ice pass to the second trailer, who now has all the room he needs to not only gain the blue line, but also begin the set up in the zone.
Here you can see the simple feed across is all that is needed to beat that lone Detroit defender in the neutral zone. Johnson now has that entire area ahead of him to gain entry into the zone and make a play on the rush, or simply begin the power play set up. Johnson chooses the later as seen in the final segment.
As Johnson gets entry into the offensive zone, he leaves the puck for Stamkos who has been patiently waiting on the boards this entire time. Stamkos has a few options now as well, which includes a back pass to Stralman who has arrived to support the point position. Stamkos decides to carry the puck in a little deeper and is able to make a pass to Palat who then uses Stralman at the point. The Lightning have not only gained entry to the zone, but they have set themselves up with the time and space to get a quality shooting opportunity.
This entry is all about the players having options and in turn making the right decision at the right time based on their read of the play happening in front of them. All of the players involved in this example made the correct choice when faced with an option, and that led to a clean and extremely effective controlled zone entry.
Remember hockey is a game of creativity and flow. However teams use a lot of set plays in certain situations, especially on the power play. But almost all of them have forms of choices being made and plans deviating to improvisation. Think of it as a giant choose your own adventure book. The wrong choices lead to you ripping pages out of the book, but the right ones will lead you to your ultimate goal. In this instance Tampa Bay made the right choices and reached their ultimate goal of a clean and efficient controlled zone entry.