The 411 on the 1-3-1 Power Play

Rob Carr

A look at how Adam Oates will try to resuscitate the Capitals' power play

"It turns into a 1-3-1 at some point in the power play," says Oates. "We coach every guy on his options and responsibilities. It's no different from any other system; it's a system with pros and cons. Sometimes it works like clockwork and sometimes it doesn't. But at the end of the day it's a system." - Dump 'n Chase

There you have it - Adam Oates's power play. (And you really do want to click through and read Vogel's post. Go ahead, we'll wait.)

The 1-3-1 power play (not to be confused with Tampa Bay's 1-3-1 trap) is a high-risk, high-reward power-play, reliant upon skilled players making good, quick decisions. The set-up, as the name would indicate, features a point man at the top of the zone, a trio spread from board-to-board above the faceoff dots, and a fifth skater down low. As noted here, "this strategy creates four triangles to pass around and take one-timer shots from. This system forces the defense to focus on the middle players causing the [penalty kill] to shrink. As a result, it can be very, very effective."

To get a quick feel for how this power-play setup looks in action, here are Bruce Boudreau's 2010-11 Caps giving it a go:

In this alignment, each of the five players has a specific role, and those roles are well laid out in the book Hockey Plays and Strategies (co-written by former Cap Ryan Walter and Mike Johnston):

  • Right and Left Side Half-Boards Players Set up with the right shot on the left boards and the left shot on the right. These two players are definitely the quarterbacks. Both must be a threat to shoot or fake the shot and pass while also being calm under pressure. They should work the puck up to the high D as number one option, and don't force plays through the box - often the play through the box will open up after recovering a rebound.
  • Mid-Ice Point Man An important strategy for this defenseman is to keep his feet on the blue line to allow more room to make a play or step into a shot. Slide along the line with deception while looking to find an open lane to the net. Quickly work the puck from left to right if the shot isn't there, and then look to shoot again. Wrist shots to the net are also good, but it there is a chance for a slapshot, use it. In the 1-3-1 setup, the puck should revolve around this player.
  • Slot Player This can be a defenseman who slides in or a forward who plays defense and then moves into the slot area. Move into this position once the puck is under control. Depending on whether this player is a right or left shot, from one side he must be ready for a quick release shot and from the other side a shot pass. The shot pass is a play where the outside players shoot to the stick of the slot player for a redirect on the net. The slot player should move around in the space to distract the penalty killers. It is key that this player is ready to support both half-boards players when they are in trouble.
  • Net Man The net man, as the name indicates, plays the net area unless support is needed to settle the puck out. He may release to the strong side for a low pass and the potential to make a quick inside play. This is a good strategy, but the player has to read whether the high players are shooting or whether they need a low option. Stay active, and get into shooting lanes at the right time.

From these descriptions, one might wonder why Brooks Laich - a lefthanded shot on the left boards - is in the position he's in, but that's neither here nor there as we look at this year's likely units (via Vogel):

On the Caps' first unit, you'll see Mike Green at center point, Alex Ovechkin along the left half wall, Troy Brouwer in the high slot and Nicklas Backstrom on the right half wall. Marcus Johansson is the man down low.

The second unit features John Carlson on top, Ovechkin, Joel Ward and Mike Ribeiro from left to right across the middle and Wojtek Wolski down low. It's likely that Brooks Laich would replace Johansson on the top unit and Johansson would bump Wolski from the second unit once Laich is healthy, but that remains to be seen.

With the proper personnel in place, it's time to look at what options they might have, and for the X's and O's we turn back to Hockey Plays and Strategies (click to enlarge image):

1-3-1_shooting_options_medium

"The idea is simple," Vogel notes, "work the puck around quickly and crisply, take the open shots when they present themselves and make another pass when they don't. Minimize blocked shots and forced plays, and, as Ribeiro put it, ‘let the puck do the work.'"

So wherein lies the rub? Primarily in that the lone point man - Mike Green or John Carlson - is on an absolute island at the top of the zone. If a puck bounces on him ("On Verizon Center ice? Not a chance!" said nobody) or a shot is blocked out high in the zone, an opposing penalty-killer could be off to the races with a flat-footed defenseman facing the wrong way, dead in the water (perhaps that's what happened last night). That defenseman is going to have to have great hands, a quick release (and mind), good lateral mobility and strong instincts (think Chris Pronger in his Ducks days; while Green and Carlson are faster, Pronger more than made up for that deficit with smarts). We'll see just how much of those traits Green and Carlson possess, but it will also be critical for the weak-side wing in the row of three to slide high to provide some help (are you listening, Alex?).

The 1-3-1 is also more effective against more aggressive penalty kills. How will the Caps adjust if the opponent decides, for example, to play a passive diamond (to take away Backstrom, Green and Ovechkin and take their chances with Brouwer in the slot and Johansson down low) rather than chase the puck all kill? We'll see, I suppose.

Ultimately, it's on the players to justify the risk by upping the reward. "We've got to move the puck and we've got to know what we're doing," Backstrom told Vogel. "The key on the power play I think is to move the puck quick, get a lot of shots and have traffic in front of the net [something this power play should be able to provide, with two levels of screeners]. We've got to make sure we shoot it at the right time and pass it at the right time."

The talent is there. The plan is in place. Let's see how it goes.

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