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Rating NHL power-play units: Which teams are the best, worst and unluckiest?

Rating NHL power-play units: Which teams are the best, worst and unluckiest?

With 20 power-play goals on the season and a 38.5 percent efficiency, the New Jersey Devils power play stands at the top of the league.

It’s a huge spike for a team that converted on less than 21 percent of their opportunities last year. And it’s a rate that no team has ever been able to maintain since the NHL started recording power-play stats in 1977-78.

The best-recorded power play belongs to the 2022-23 Edmonton Oilers, who operated at 32.4 percent. So is New Jersey close to Edmonton in its high-powered advantage, or is their play below the surface a bit more telling?

That’s what we’re here to find out around the NHL. Every team’s working with small samples that can change their rates pretty quickly — just ask the Dallas Stars after scoring five power-play goals against the Wild. But in the early goings of the season, we’re going to take a look at some of the best, worst and unluckiest power plays in the league.

High-octane power plays

New Jersey Devils

On the season as a whole, New Jersey has scored at a league-leading rate of 17.0 goals per 60. But the Devils’ shot quality pales in comparison to their results, with an expected goal rate of 8.7 per 60 that moves them down to 17th in the league.

The Devils’ high pace to open the season probably wasn’t sustainable to begin with. Outscoring expectations isn’t surprising for a team with as much star power as New Jersey — just not to this extent. It gave the team a much-needed scoring boost, making up almost 40 percent of their goal scoring, while their five-on-five game had some kinks to work out.

It’s trended down recently, but it’s not just a result of expected regression.

The key difference between New Jersey’s power play to open the season versus now is the loss of Jack Hughes. To start the year, Hughes was elite on the power play with the team scoring 15 of their 16 goals with him deployed ahead of sustaining an injury on Nov. 3. The Devils were generating a lot of high-caliber scoring chances with Hughes on the ice in a few dangerous areas — the center’s shot creation and puck movement played into that.

Via HockeyViz

The team was still outscoring expectations while Hughes was healthy, nearly doubling its 11.4 expected goals per 60, but there’s been a major downswing since. New Jersey’s been lucky to be scoring at a rate that still keeps it in the top half of the league, but its scoring chance creation has taken a huge hit down to 3.5 expected goals per 60 over its last four games.

Hughes should be back soon and will have plenty of time to once again be a difference maker considering he’s deployed for about 70 percent of the available minutes. New Jersey should gain even more oomph when Nico Hischier eventually is healthy, too. Then the Devils can test whether they can actually keep pace with a team like the 2022-23 Oilers.

New York Rangers

The Rangers’ power play has been a pretty consistent threat over the last few years. There’ve been some bumps and galaxy-brained decisions at times, but there’s a reason why they tend to rank pretty highly in the league. This year, New York’s second in scoring rate with 12.3 per 60 and third in expected goals at 11.47 per 60, a strong sustainability check.

Much of that is thanks to the top unit, which tends to play upward of 70 percent of the available minutes.

Mika Zibanejad unsurprisingly is the primary shooter, and he’s stationed with his right shot in the left circle. Artemi Panarin’s also picked up the pace with a higher shot volume on the right, which has given the Rangers some more dimension, too. Along with Zibanejad and Panarin, Vincent Trocheck and Adam Fox have all seen an uptick in their scoring chance generation, too. Chris Kreider’s the only member of PP1 who actually hasn’t driven up his shot or scoring chance generation — but he has five goals to show for his net-front efforts already.

Like the Devils, the Rangers have had their own injury situation to navigate since Fox was sidelined. But Erik Gustafsson has stepped up into the role, and there hasn’t been much of a dip in their production even though he brings a different look as a lefty from the point. New York has adjusted to that and kept on thriving.

Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning power play keeps on striking. As much as this team has been hurt by cap-related subtractions, they’ve kept most of their top power-play unit together.

Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos, once again, lead the way for the Lightning with their usage. Tampa Bay maintains two elite shooters and sneaky good passers in both circles with this duo on the ice. Brayden Point’s perfectly stationed in the bumper position between them. And Victor Hedman’s really regained his spot as the quarterback on PP1 after rotating with Mikhail Sergachev through some of his struggles last year. Replacing the departed Alex Killorn in the net-front role is Nick Paul. And that composes one of the best power plays in the league.

Tampa Bay has scored at the third-highest rate with 12.3 goals per 60, and its scoring chance creation below the surface supports that with the fourth-best expected goal generation in the league. Much of that is thanks to its two dangerous shooters on the flanks — Stamkos remains one of the best from the left circle, and Kucherov’s dynamite from the right. What makes this unit all the more threatening, besides the firepower that challenges penalty killers, is their puck movement leading up to those shots. Four out of five players on PP1 have skated together for some time, and that chemistry shows in their scoring sequences.

Honorable Mention: Vancouver Canucks

Can’t catch a break

Florida Panthers

While the Devils have a ton of shooting luck, the Panthers apparently can’t catch a break. This really isn’t anything new for Florida — last year it was expected to score about 16 more goals on the advantage than it actually did, which was second to last in the league. That’s where Florida sits once again, with almost seven goals fewer than expected.

The Panthers have a lot of offensive pop on the power play — they’re a top-three team in shot volume and quality. But seven goals on 44 opportunities, which adds up to a 15.9 percent rate, definitely doesn’t reflect it.

At least unlike last year, Sam Reinhart didn’t need time to get going on the power play. He’s creating an even higher rate of chances and converting. Shifting Carter Verhaeghe up to the top unit a few games ago seems to be making a difference, too.

But the Panthers need players like Matthew Tkachuk and Aleksander Barkov to start getting lucky bounces — Tkachuk leads the team in shots and is getting right to the quality areas without a goal to show for it. Plus, a healthy Brandon Montour should return to the fold soon and could have a positive impact.

Pittsburgh Penguins

It wouldn’t have been entirely surprising if Pittsburgh needed some time to adjust after offseason changes. The Penguins now have two top-notch options to quarterback their top unit, after acquiring Erik Karlsson. Sometimes it takes a minute to figure out how to distribute ice time, or to just adjust to new player tendencies. Promoting Reilly Smith to that top unit added another new player to account for around the mainstay PP1 core of Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel and Evgeni Malkin, too.

The Penguins are pressing, though. No one’s created more offense on the power play so far — they lead shot and scoring chance generation. But with 7.8 goals per 60, they are operating at a rate that falls in the bottom half of the league.

Via HockeyViz

Does Pittsburgh have too many drivers on one unit for it to click? Is it just that the team doesn’t have a traditional net-front presence? Or is it that the coaches haven’t figured out the right adjustments to make, and that’s making the unit look so complacent in the early goings of the season? With a lot riding on this season, the Penguins have to do more than just hope their shooting luck will turn around.

Washington Capitals

Speaking of bad shooting luck, no one is underperforming to the degree that Washington has.

The Capitals have just three power-play goals this season on 38 opportunities for a lowly operating percentage of 7.9. That’s by far the lowest of the Alex Ovechkin era.

To the team’s credit, they should have more goals to show for their efforts. Washington’s a top-five team in expected goal generation on the advantage, even though its actual scoring rate is dead last. The Capitals’ expected actual goal differential of 9.9 is the worst in the league, too. Ovechkin makes up about three of those goals, before accounting for his shooting talent that tends to shine on the power play.

It’s possible that the finishing talent, outside of Ovechkin, just isn’t there on that top unit. Maybe the Capitals need a refresh to add some sparks around their franchise forward to help him reach the scoring milestones he’s striving for.

Honorable Mention: Minnesota Wild

We expect more

Edmonton Oilers

Edmonton’s in the top half of the league both in expected and actual goal scoring, which really isn’t bad. But it’s not to the level that the Oilers are known for, either.

Facing off against Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl while short-handed can challenge even the best penalty killers. But that hasn’t been the case as much this year, and McDavid’s health may have something to do with it. McDavid at 50 percent is probably better than the average forward, but the Oilers are built in such a way that they need him to be the driver of their success and it doesn’t seem like that’s happening right now.

The Oilers should be better than middle-of-the-road on the advantage, even if they can’t reach last year’s sky-high success. There were sustainability concerns through much of last season, and a constant question of whether they were over-reliant on the power play. But that power play should be a greater threat and closer to a top-five team in scoring chance creation. The sad part for the Oilers is that even without their power play thriving right now, it still makes up about 31 percent of their scoring, which just highlights some of their poor shooting luck at even strength.

Dallas Stars

The Stars had a top-three power play both above and below the surface level last year. The team didn’t make any major changes to that top unit, and yet they just aren’t clicking at a particularly impressive rate to open this year.

Sure, now they’re scoring a rate of 8.88 goals per 60 which sends them right to the middle of the league. But take out those five power-play goals scored against the Wild on Sunday and they drop down to 25th with 5.11 goals per 60.

Maybe a turnaround was bound to happen — Dallas is fifth in expected goal generation on the power play as it stands, anyway. But the fact it came against a struggling Wild penalty kill could be more indicative of Minnesota’s struggles than the Stars’ triumphs. The Stars have the makings of a dynamic power play, so maybe Sunday night was the push they needed to get back to that high level.

Buffalo Sabres

Buffalo’s scoring rate on the power play has dropped by about 4.06 goals per 60 from year to year, which is the second biggest drop in the league behind only Washington.

The Sabres have only scored five goals on 45 opportunities to open the season. Like the two aforementioned teams, Buffalo went into the season with a similar PP1 to where it left off. Unlike the Stars and Oilers, the Sabres don’t have strong offensive generation to back them up either.

One of the biggest issues for the Sabres is how little they’re generating from inside the home plate area in front of the blue paint. They’re getting shots from the point, and Tage Thompson’s influence is showing just outside the faceoff dot. But Buffalo is very clearly lacking elsewhere. Maybe a stronger playmaker on PP1 would help increase the danger of the shots their leading contributors are taking. That’s why the coaches have switched up their two units to try and spark something.

Honorable Mention: Colorado Avalanche

Decline the power play

Philadelphia Flyers

A power play can be so troubled that a team would be better off declining the opportunity to avoid losing momentum from a situation that’s supposed to help.

The Flyers have gone 4-for-52 on the power play, leaving them with a putrid 7.7 percent efficiency rate. Philadelphia doesn’t do nearly enough to put itself in a position to score — it’s 29th in the league in expected goal generation because it struggles to get to the middle of the ice and challenge penalty killers.

Despite that lack of offensive creation, the Flyers actually should have more goals to show for their efforts. With a minus-6.43 differential between expected and actual goals, they file in behind the Panthers and Capitals as the league’s leading underperformers.

St. Louis Blues

It took the Blues five games to get on the scoresheet on the power play. Then they couldn’t convert again till their 13th game of the season, last Saturday against the Avalanche.

The Blues power play has been anything but an advantage with a 3-for-39 start. It makes up just eight percent of the team’s scoring this season. Along with falling to the bottom three in goal production, St. Louis has slipped to 31st in expected goal generation. It’s not bad luck, it’s bad everything. And it doesn’t help that players like Jordan Kyrou have taken a step back in shot and scoring creation year to year.

San Jose Sharks

The Sharks are cut some slack because the roster is that dreadful. Before acquiring Calen Addison, no one even stood out as an option to quarterback the top power-play unit. San Jose’s mustered just seven power-play goals on 47 opportunities and ranks dead last in the league with a lackluster expected goal rate of 5.9 per 60. The little nugget of intrigue for the Sharks is that their power-play production actually makes up about 39 percent of their scoring, which is behind only the Devils. That’s because they have just 18 (!) all-situation goals so far this season.

Honorable Mention: New York Islanders

— Data viaEvolving-Hockey, HockeyViz, AllThreeZones and NaturalStatTrick. This story relies on shot-based metrics; here is a primer on these numbers.

(Top photos of Alex Ovechkin and Jack Hughes: Scott Taetsch / Getty Images and David Kirouac / USA Today)

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