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Logan O'Connor
David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports
Hockey Analytics

NHL ANALYTICS: POWER KILL-ING IT

by Gus Katsaros
Updated On: February 3, 2022, 2:01 am ET

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Toronto Maple Leafs Ilya Mikheyev may have scored one of the easiest goals of his NHL career the other night. A shorthanded marker off a feed from Alex Kerfoot and a misplay by the Devils Damon Severson.

Ilya Mikheyev 🚨

WHAT A PASS BY KERFOOT! pic.twitter.com/pTx9fh1FFc

— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) February 1, 2022

 

Offense from the penalty kill is a new age idea (dubbed the Power Kill) gaining more traction throughout the league – and it should have an eventual trickle-down effect to prioritize the skill set and normalize the practice in developmental leagues. If players are trained early to recognize spots/patterns to instill more offensively oriented strategy while killing a penalty as they develop, they’ll be nice adds when they turn professional.

Kerfoot tops NHL forwards in expected goals with him on the ice at 4v5 so far in 2021-22. The Leafs employ Mitch Marner at 5v4 as well, and despite the offensive skillset, he hasn’t contributed as many points as expected over the last two or three seasons.

Data from MoneyPuck.com for this article except where otherwise noted.

NHL 4v5 Players On Ice Expected Goals 2021-22

 

Using skilled and creative players while killing a penalty offers counter offensive measures that can also remove the potency/sting out of any power play.

Boston’s Brad Marchand has put up the most shorthanded points in the last three seasons – 2021-22 included according to data from Natural Stat Trick.

Esa Lindell has played the most (519 minutes, five points), and the forward with the most time on ice has been Barclay Goodrow, 13th overall (403 minutes, three points).

Lindell has also outscored all defensemen, appearing 18th overall in scoring. We took a deeper look at the Panther blueliners last week, and here they are among the top five in 4v5 scoring over the last three seasons.

Player

Team

TOI

G

Pts

Esa Lindell

DAL

519.88

2

5

Adam Pelech

NYI

282.43

1

5

Dylan DeMelo

WPG

348.72

1

4

MacKenzie Weegar

FLA

332.93

1

4

Aaron Ekblad

FLA

328.95

0

4

Adam Fox

NYR

245.10

2

4

Brent Burns

S.J

429.60

0

3

Jeff Petry

MTL

328.93

1

3

Alex Pietrangelo

VGK

304.93

1

3

Marco Scandella

STL

327.98

0

3

 

Team Play

Scoring goals at 5v5 is much more difficult now and teams are trying to find new and innovative ways to inject scoring creativity. Much more sophistication exists to design penalty killing units with star players (Mitch Marner in Toronto for instance).

Scoring is also concentrated on groups of penalty killing players getting regular ice time, so the more playing time a player gets, the more integral they become to executing offensively oriented strategies.

This is called the Power Kill, a term coined by Mike Pfeil and championed by Seattle Kraken commentator/analyst, Alison Lukan, while afforded the opportunity to see one of the best forwards in a power kill capability when he was in Columbus in Cam Atkinson.

Offense While Shorthanded – a Short History

Since 2013-14, the NHL has adapted to an increase in shot attempt and expected goals rates at 4v5. Some wavering in the shortened season in 2019-20 and shortened 2020-21 season, but 2021 is shaping up to follow the trend leading up to the 2018-19 high of 16.2 shot attempt events (CF60) per 60 minutes and indicated by the blue bars in the chart below.

NHL Corsi and Expected Goals 2013 to 2021

 

There hasn’t been a significant change in shooting percentage over the same time span, coupled with an uptick from lows at save percentage. The trend of save percentage dropping as shooting percentage did as well, with highs of 9.8 and 9.9 percent seeing a drop in shooting percentage and corresponding save percentage.

This era is also where the neutral zone drop pass begins to break into the league shortly after most teams adopting a shift from the traditional three forwards and two defensemen to four forwards and one rearguard. There’s a deeper study to see of the stats have some significant correlation, but if shooting percentages are increasing it would mean more offensive situations and more power plays fizzling out – which aside from scoring, is the ultimate goal.

 

NHL Shooting and Save Percentages 2021-22

 

From this presentation by Alison Lukan and Meghan Hall at the Columbus hockey analytics conference in February 2020, there’s a positive relationship to leading more offensively by just being out the defensive zone and thwarting any power play opportunity as a result. Scoring chances are the ultimate penalty kill time muncher and even if teams aren’t scoring, keeping pucks as far away from their own goal is a net positive.

NHL Offensive Impact on Defense

 

We can further drill down there to show as expected goals has increased, expected goals against has remained at similar rates from 2015 onward. The uptick for 2021 is for games based on half a season, so while it’s a notable item, we should wait to have more data for an accurate conclusion.

NHL expected goals for and against per 60

 

Team performance can be isolated overall by measuring expected goals per 60 minutes against actual goals scored rates. Positive results indicates teams outperforming their expectation and negative results underperforming.

Over the last three seasons, teams have actually underperformed their expected goals but from earlier we saw expected goals per 60 rates increasing. There’s a lag in the scoring that seems to be improving in 2021, but that gap is likely to close up when teams find better, more creative ways to be dangerous while down short a player on the ice. As teams are ramping up their expected goals rates (generating more quality opportunities), they aren’t capitalizing as much at least over the last three seasons.

NHL Goals Above Expected Goals 2013 to 2021

 

That measurement is shown in the radar chart below, with each season starting from 2013 listed clockwise from the top. Where the dark blue line crosses the green line, it means teams produced a goals for per 60 rate better than their expected goals per 60 rate at 5v4. Up until 2019-20, teams were faring well, but since then have lagged in real scoring rates. Players are generating better scoring chances as a result.

NHL goals for and expected goals for per 60 rates

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Players Results 2021-22 Featuring Logan O’Conner

With at least half a COVID infested season completed, we can get some semblance about who’s excelling at 4v5 in 2021-22. The one name that stands out is Logan O’Connor.

Tied for the NHL lead in points at 4v5 (4 – with Nyquist, Barkov, and Kuznetsov), featuring three primary assists, the Avalanche forward is making a name for himself as a legit 4v5 threat.

NHL players Points at 4v5 2021-22

 

As of games entering Tuesday night, he was the NHL leader in shots on goal at 4v5 and seventh overall in shot attempts while playing about 1.55 minutes per 60. He’s featured alongside some established veterans with his shorthanded presence. Toronto castoffs Jimmy Vesey and Trevor Moore have developed into a 4v5 threat as well – so don’t sleep on them just yet.

NHL 4v5 shot on goal leaders 2021-22

 

O’Connor’s four points feature shots on goal from all parts of the ice with three from high danger areas (Brandon Tanev leads with four).

Logan O'Connor High Danger Shots Leader

 

Getting pucks in deep into high danger areas increase the induced chaos in the offensive zone, and forcing the four forwards and defenseman to regroup to thwart the scoring threat and then reset to rush up the ice. By then, a new group of penalty killers have hit the ice and the set up for the neutral zone drop pass is completed in time to face the oncoming rush.

The Power Kill strategy will ramp up and fans will see more creativity and skills development in conjunction with these new opportunities. The interesting part of the analysis is that evey season new players are among the scoring leaders – scoring goals is random – but shots, shot attempts and scoring chance generation can be consistent.

Brad Marchand can attest.

Gus Katsaros
Gus Katsaros is the Pro Scouting Coordinator with McKeen’s Hockey, publishers of industry leading scouting and fantasy guide, the McKeen’s Annual Hockey Pool Yearbook. He also contributes to popular blog MapleLeafsHotStove.com ... he can be followed on Twitter @KatsHockey