On Thursday on the second day of the World Junior Championship, it initially looked like Canada would dominate Switzerland in the same way they dominated Denmark. Cody Glass opened the score just 36 seconds after the match.
The Swiss did not go quietly, however, and that was thanks to the game of their strength. They were 2-for-4 ahead with men's advantage, only two of their goals in a 3-2 loss.
Not only did Switzerland score goals in power games, but the way they scored it caused a stir. Switzerland used unusual tactics for the game of power, set up below the goal line to create fantastic scoring opportunities between the fence marks for Philipp Kurashev.
Ray Ferraro, one of the best color commentators in the business, described it on the TSN broadcast.
– TSN (@TSN_Sports)
December 28, 2018
As Ferraro said, Switzerland reversed their power play. Most power games are arranged from a point with a power play midfielder defender, or on a half wall with a playmaking center. With both of these arrangements, most of the chip movements are at the top of the zone, trying to make east-west passes for scoring opportunities.
Switzerland often moves pieces behind the goal, with two forward below the goal line. This leads to the north-south track from the bottom of the goal line, such as the track that defines Kurashev's first goal.
Even though this is an unusual arrangement, it will look familiar to Canucks fans. This may not be the Canucks tactic for the game of strength, but they have experimented with placing below the goal line for the past month. This led to an unforgettable goal for Alex Edler against the Edmonton Oilers on December 16.
After Bo Horvat won the faceoff, he and Brock Boeser immediately moved below the goal line. Pettersson sent the chip to Horvat, who moved it to Boeser, and he set Edler to one-timer from the top of the left faceoff circle.
The unusual movements of the pieces gave Edler the space to take clear shots and lines of fire, while forcing Mikko Koskinen to move significantly before the shot, making it difficult for him to get ready.
There is a strong argument that the Canucks must use these power game tactics more often because they have several benefits over more general arrangements.
That would be a statement made by Ryan Kent Stimson. His recently published book, Tape to Space: Redefining Modern Hockey Tactics, uses analytics in an innovative way to advise coaches about optimal systems and tactics, including the play of power. He wrote specifically about setting below the goal line in the power play in an article on The Coaches Site.
Stimson's work with analytics does not focus on shot-based metrics such as corsi, fenwick, or scoring opportunities, but by analyzing strategies and finding the most efficient valuation methods. Some of the most dangerous passing sequences are passing that come from below the goal line.
There are several reasons for this. First, the goaltenders can't stand this type of game. It passes behind the net-style goalkeeper to keep moving from post to post, while constantly having to turn to pick up the pieces, because they lose sight when walking behind them. That makes tracking pieces more difficult. Then, when passing out the front, the goaltender must quickly move out to cut corners and the movement can create a gap that snipers can exploit.
This is also a difficult game for the death penalty to defend. The net itself helps protect the piece from penalty killings, creating a passing path that cannot be maintained without sending a hitman behind the net, which opens space in front of the net. This allows the power game to move pieces from side to side without the risk of a penalty killer interrupting bait and clearing zones.
Keeping the pieces low also minimizes the risk of chips coming out of the shortest zone or opportunity. When the chip is near the blue line, because usually with most power game settings, there is always the possibility of a defective friend handling the chip, forcing the game of power to regroup in the neutral zone, or worse, giving up another chance. If a player passes an pass below the goal line, the power game has a better chance of recovering the pieces and keeping them in the offensive zone.
Most importantly, with a low puck below the goal line, the death penalty must turn their back into three players, all of whom can move to the scoring position behind them. In a typical game of power, a contract killer can usually keep at least three to four members of the power game in front of him and examine the shoulders to keep an eye on one or two others. If the game of power is set below the goal line, more members of the game are invisible force, which can also make them not remember.
We can see how this works in the Swiss goal and also Edler's goal against Oilers. Canada's penalty killings really lost sight of Kurashev when they tracked the pieces behind the net and he could walk right into the most dangerous area on ice for a single use.
Likewise, Oilers' penalty killings don't know where Edler was before he stepped into his one-timer. When they tracked the gap from Horvat to Boeser, they might think Edler would remain in the center: instead, he had moved to the left side of the ice to get permission from Boeser.
This is only one view that the Canucks' power game has been used, because they usually remain in a standard 1-3-1 formation, usually with Boeser on the left and Pettersson on the right. That gave them two great shooting options, but they often struggled to get past the penalty box to create opportunities for the shooting option. Setting below the goal line can create more open passing paths to manage that opportunity.
While varying their power play settings can make it difficult for penalty killers to prepare for the match against the Canucks, I want to see them try to set below the goal line a little more often. Killing penalties are used to defend against formations 1-3-1; they are far less used to defend against operands from below the goal line.