The Finer Points: the power play

Washington Capitals forward Mike Knuble scores a goal on the power play during the 2011 NHL Winter Classic. (Clydeorama/Flickr)

A strong power play is one of the biggest assets for a hockey club in winning consistently. The game is so structured these days, it’s not often one team has a huge advantage at even strength, so the ability to capitalize on the power play can be instrumental in winning hockey games.

A power play can be two, four or five minutes in length. If it is a two minute power play (minor penalty) the team with the man advantage can score once before it ends. A four minute power play (double minor) allows a team to score up to two times if they score a goal before the first two minutes is up. However a five minute power play (major penalty) last the entire length of the penalty regardless of how many goals are scored.

It used to be that a power play would run the entire length even if a goal was scored, but a rule was put in place before the 1956-57 season that called for a penalty to end after a goal was scored. This was due to the Montreal Canadiens having such a dominant power play, when they would score on well over 25% of their opportunities, a far better ratio than the rest of the league.

There are several different strategies for a team to use on the power play. They use a specific one based on both the strength of their team and the opposing team’s penalty killing unit. Here are the most basic power play strategies.


The umbrella power play features three players, usually one at the point and the other two near the top of the faceoff circles. Two forwards are near the crease, creating traffic in front of the goalie and looking for rebounds.

This power play relies on strong puck movement and hard, quick shots from the point, usually with a one-timer. The players up high in the zone pass the puck between them, shifting their positions, but maintaining the same formation throughout the power play. Players down low can also swing out towards the boards to open up another passing lane.

What makes this power play work is quick puck movement and taking a shot as soon as a player has an open lane to the net. This power play is generally used by teams featuring players with strong slap shots from the defense and big forwards to create the screens in front. While some power plays wait for the perfect shot to be set up, the umbrella works by getting any open shot towards the net.

For a really good video explanation, check out this video via Jeremy Weiss from  Weiss Tech Hockey:


The overload is used primarily by teams with smaller, skilled forwards. Whereas the umbrella power play is set up near the point, the overload is set up down low and relies on a strong cycle to outnumber the opposition.

There are three players positioned along the boards, a defenseman at the point and a forward at the half wall and the goal line. There is another defenseman on the point in the middle of the blueline and a forward in the slot.

The idea of this power play is quality over quantity. The team with the man advantage won’t necessarily create a lot of scoring chances, but the ones they do manage will be very good ones. There are a lot of give-and-go passes and when those draw a penalty killer out of position, the team on the man advantage capitalizes on the extra space now available to them.

Once again, here’s Jeremy Weiss with the video explanation:

1-3-1 Hybrid

The last one we’ll be looking at is popular over in Europe and has been used by the Tampa Bay Lightning a lot in the past few seasons.

The setup is very similar to the umbrella, but instead of having two forwards by the net, one is in the middle of the zone – right above the hashmarks of the two faceoff circles.

This gives a team a lot of passing options, as there are numerous triangles to pass around while the umbrella mainly just has the one along the blueline. Also, with one forward higher in the zone, the penalty killing unit is forced to shrink so as not to allow the player to get on the inside of their formation for an easy shot on net. When the penalty killers collapse, it enables to power play unit to get more shots off and this is especially useful when you have a player with a really good one-timer like Steven Stamkos has for the Lightning.

Each player on this power play has a very specific job in order to make it work, but when you get it right, it’s a great way to keep the penalty killers out of position, leading to missed assignments, outnumbered situations, and top quality scoring chances.

Perhaps the most important thing about running a power play is to not take for granted that your team had more skaters. The shorthanded team is playing with a lot of desperation and they are going to be working very hard to keep the puck out of the net and the team with the man advantage is going to have to at least match that desperation and determination of the power play will be easy to kill off. All the skill and extra space on the ice won’t mean anything if they aren’t outworking the penalty killers.

For a complete look at special teams, next week’s Finer Points will take a look at penalty killing. Stay tuned!

*Editor’s Note: Hockey is a very fast-paced game and the large number of sometimes-complicated rules can make it hard to follow for a casual/new viewer. The Finer Points is a weekly column that will explain the subtleties and complexities of hockey in an easy-to-understand manner so fans can spend more time enjoying the game and less time trying to figure out what is going on.  

Is there a facet of the game that has you scratching your head? Send an email to


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