Do we have to accept the power play?

By Peter Langella

A friend of mine uttered those words last Friday night at Cairns Arena in South Burlington, Vt. St. Michael's had just taken its fifth penalty of the game, and Norwich was about to have the man advantage yet again. The first four attempts were mediocre at best, and fans – like my friend – were starting to wish for the five-on-five gameplay to last a little longer without special teams interruptions.

In 2012-13, five of the nation's top nine power plays belonged to teams who went to the NCAAs.
Photo: Matt Milless for

This is nothing against the Norwich men or their power play units. It's very early in the season, and they have an uncharacteristically young squad this year. I'm sure those issues will work themselves out as time goes on.

No, this is more about how special teams can affect the flow of the game. Some teams thrive on one or both special teams, gaining momentum for even-strength play, while other teams lose their rhythm and suffer for up to a period or more because of the shift in pace.

And it's that shift in pace that I really want to talk about. Why does it happen so often? Why do so many teams set up such static, stationary power play sets? Unless you have a rangy quarterback-type defenseman for the top of the umbrella or an unbelievably skilled forward to use as a wall-guy-set-up-man, stationary power plays just don't seem to work that well.

And let's face it, neither of those two players exist all too often in Division III. They barely exist outside of the NHL.

But some teams really know how to make it work.

The Plattsburgh men are fun to watch on the man advantage. Sure, it depends on who they have for personnel from year to year, but they seem to have the right idea more often than not. I've never spoken to coach Emery about it, and I've never seen them practice outside of a morning skate, but I imagine that the Cardinals don't think of the power play in terms of what the defensemen or wings or center will do, so much as they focus on what the entire unit will do. Players who set up on the point make lightning quick cuts to the back door. Players down low cycle like it's an even-strength shift. The guy in front of the net sprints between the edge of the crease and the ultra-high slot, always trying to make sure he's open for a shot or in a good position for a screen or rebound.

They wear teams down. Simply put, they work just as hard on the power play as they do when it's five-on-five.

I'm not trying to say that other teams aren't working hard when they have the man advantage, but, in a way, I am saying that, too. I think you can visualize what I'm getting at. A defenseman slowly heading after an iced puck, and then pausing for what seems like forever behind his own net to wait for his forwards to set up. Two players standing flat-footed in the corner, passing the puck back and forth, not forcing the penalty killers to move or break a sweat. A point player, working the puck to each side of the umbrella over and over and over, making it easy for the killers to crowd in front of their goalie and set up an impenetrable blockade.

I know you've all seen this before. It's painful to watch. It really is.

So why do so many teams act like they have Niklas Lidstrom or Martin St. Louis or Joe Thornton on their rosters when they could act more like Plattsburgh? When they could cycle down low, force two-on-ones all over the ice, and fire quick, low shots on net? Why do they choose to sit back and wait when they could push the pace forward, stealing the momentum for good and tiring the heck out of their opponents?

I have no idea. But it would sure make being a fan a whole lot easier.



Sunday, Oct. 21: All times Eastern
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