NHL Analytics: Power Play Scoring Game by Game

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It was fitting that both the Seattle Kraken and the Vegas Golden Knights scored a power play goal each in their Tuesday night game, a 4-2 Vegas win at home.

Entering Tuesday night’s contest, the latest NHL’s expansion teams had only scored in one game each this season at 5v4. About a dozen games into the season, both clubs have shown more pop than power with the man advantage. We are going to look at both teams in more depth, but to illustrate the importance of the power play, I present to you the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Power plays – and here we are focusing on 5v4 play) have a life of their own league-wide. The Leafs have struggled to score with the man advantage going well into the beginning of the shortened 2020-21 season and a major factor for their opening round playoffs collapse. After a sizzling start to ’20-21, scoring in bunches, they performed poorly. Why?

They got predictable.

Predictability is a death knell to creativity – forcing plays into a preset motion or setup in hopes of gaming the percentages over the long term. The plays were blatantly obvious – getting the puck to the flanks for a shot from the face off circles, without any pre-puck movement and reliance on a snipers ability to find an opening.

Toronto has injected different looks and feels in the young 2021-22 season. A small sample of success in the first two games (three goals), game by game they went through an unproductive stretch averaging a little less than five minutes per game in 5v4 time. They’ve had recent success with five goals in the last five games – with an expected goals of 2.1 in that same span.

Toronto game by game at 5v4 in 2021-22
Toronto game by game at 5v4 in 2021-22

An exceptional 5v4 proficiency offers teams a much needed pressure release valve. Teams can take advantage of game situations, whether it’s popping in insurance goals, or clawing back from a deficit, or to score the go-ahead marker in a tight affair. A potent power play will make the opposition wary of taking penalties – and good teams can pressure plays in order to draw penalties. Create an advantageous situation at 5v5, and capitalize at 5v4. The pressure ratcheting up in the playoffs can be offset with a potent power play.

Tableau Visualizations

The images are courtesy of Tableau.

I’ll introduce a Tableau visualization tool during this post located here, with only image embedded into the article from the visualization. If you would like to follow along or find your favorite team to follow along game by game. For the purpose of this post, the data doesn’t contain games played on Tuesday night.

I’m going to go over some notable teams, but Tableau is an excellent interactive tool to visualize each team game by game. This dashboard contains the game by game results for any team chosen in the filter on the side, with three different charts all at 5v4.

Data is courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.

  • Stacked Bar Chart at the top measuring goals scored and expected goals.

  • Middle Chart - Scoring chances generated from High, Medium and Low danger zones

  • Bottom Chart – Shooting percentage and time on ice at 5v4.

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Lack of Power - Seattle and Vegas in Depth

Let’s examine the latest NHL expansion teams from Tuesday night.

Prior to Tuesday night’s power play goals each, Seattle had found the back of the net twice in 2021-22, during their second game of their inaugural season, firing three shots on goal against the Nashville Predators. They registered one scoring chance in each of the danger zones, high, medium and low, 2.6 minutes of 5v4 time. (Interactive version of the image allows you to hover over the bars for the values.)

In the expected goals chart at the top, Seattle has generated some decent chances, with expected goals of 1.1 as a high and 0.9 goals. In the game where they scored, they generated an expected goals of 0.2 – yet scored twice. Goals scoring is indeed random.

In subsequent games, Seattle did better to generate more chances – however less frequently from high danger areas and seemingly firing from medium and low danger areas. Throughout each game we see a higher degree of chance generation from the medium and low danger areas – which isn’t going to work the percentages into your favor very often.

Seattle game by game at 5v4 in 2021-22
Seattle game by game at 5v4 in 2021-22

Vegas scored their first 5v4 goal in their 11th contest, scoring twice on two shots on goal – both goals originating from medium scoring areas in 1.5 minutes at 5v4.

Similar to Seattle, they generated fairly decent expected goals rates on a per game basis, but couldn’t capitalize on any scoring luck.

In the middle chart, there are an awful lot chances originating from the low danger areas – and similar to their expansion brethren won’t find a lot of success without a distinct commitment to getting to high danger scoring areas.

Vegas game by game at 5v4 in 2021-22
Vegas game by game at 5v4 in 2021-22

Successful 5v4 Situations

Conversely, some teams are simply thriving at 5v4. Before Tuesday night’s game against the Detroit Red Wings where they were held off the scoresheet at 5v4, the Edmonton Oilers had scored at least one 5v4 goal in each game this season – with four multi-goal games. There’s a lot more medium and high danger chances here in comparison to Seattle and Vegas and the success is evident.

Edmonton game by game at 5v4 in 2021-22
Edmonton game by game at 5v4 in 2021-22

In a battle for Alberta hockey superiority, the Calgary Flames, with a 5v4 goal in all but four games in 2021-22. There’s more low danger chance propensity for the Flames and they’re getting the November 2nd game against the Nashville predators featured 12.1 minutes at 5v4, one goal, a 1.1 expected goals on a 14.3% shooting percentage.

Calgary game by game at 5v4 in 2021-22
Calgary game by game at 5v4 in 2021-22

Ending in California, Anaheim is holding it down on the West coast, scoring all but four games, and doing it with volume shooting. A lot of shot origination begins in low danger areas with some support from higher danger scoring areas.

Anaheim game by game at 5v4 in 2021-22
Anaheim game by game at 5v4 in 2021-22

Two things to take away from this post – power plays are important to supplementing scoring and there is a lot more power in the visualization tools available for us to consume and understand data.

I expect to introduce more Tableau ‘vizzes’ during the rest of this season to help us understand any applicable datasets.