It’s the All Star break, and while Matt Pierce, Jeremy Smith and Bob Case are out in Ontario, California representing the Cyclones during the ECHL All Star events, I thought I’d dive deeper into a few of the passing thoughts I’ve had in earlier entries.

Before I get too far there is a little house keeping. First, all of the ECHL All Star Events can be seen on the B2 Networks. The Skills Competition will air on Tuesday (1/19/10) at 7pm Pacific Time and the puck drops on the All Star Game on Wednesday (1/20/10) at 7pm Pacific Time as well. Both events will be aired free of charge at B2TV.com .Oh and check your DirecTV and Dish Network channels because you might be able to catch the Game there as well if you have the right package.  Secondly, in case you haven’t heard by now, Dustin Sproat and Mike Mclean have been sent back to Cincinnati. Hopefully the All Star Break will allow the guys to recharge from what, according to Dustin’s Twitter, was a fairly involved travel schedule back to Cincinnati.

And now, the rest of the story…

Chuck Weber has a saying that goes something like this… if the special team’s percentages add up to 110 then they are going to win games, around 105 and they’re doing O.K. and less than 100, well let’s just say it’s not good… The Cyclones currently sit at 98.4. While the Penalty Kill, which started the season on fire has dipped a bit lately (83.2% which is 6th in the League allowing 30 goals on 179 opportunities, but also leads the League in short handed goals with 12) most of the blame falls to the Power Play Unit which is 18th in the League having scored just 35 goals on 230 opportunities for a scant conversion rate of 15.2%.

Coach Weber incorporates different systems for the PK depending on who he has on the ice. As we saw last year, when the PK suffered mightily until we added the Fresno Three (Sproat, Coghlan and O’Hanely); having the proper personnel is key to Weber’s PK systems. When Sproat and Mclean were called up, Weber resorted to splitting up the top PK forward pair of Ehgoetz and Reynolds which allowed the PK to plug along and not be terrible. The PK should be able to improve with Sproat and Mclean returning to the line up. I don’t think the Power Play can be entirely chalked up to personnel however.

The Cyclones have had 230 man advantage opportunities, which leads the League, but have struggled scoring just 35 goals. The Power Play woes get compounded when you look at the Team’s regulation losses. The Cyclones currently have 14 regulation losses, 9 of which have been by 1 or 2 goals (the second goal being a late empty net goal). In those nine games the Cyclones Power Play has performed at a rather impotent clip, converting at just 12.3%. That’s just 8 goals in 65 chances. Imagine how different the standings might look had the Boys been able to convert and take at least a point out of a few of those games. That, however, will be another installment of CycWords.

So what gives?

Sure, the Cyclones lack a big shot from the point in the absence of Reid Cashman and Doug Krantz, but I don’t think that is entirely it. Scoring isn’t the responsibility of the point players; yes, it’s great when it happens, but at the point it’s all about holding the puck in the zone and making good puck decisions. After all it doesn’t matter how hard a shot it as long as it gets to the front of the net. Also, while the Cyclones roster lacks a player with truly creative puck skills to take over and dominate a Power Play, it is full of players that are skilled and are more than capable of creating out of the corner or off the half wall for themselves and their teammates.

The Cyclones point players do a good job with holding the zone and making good decisions and the forwards do an excellent job of finding seams to pass through. That is until the pressure comes. The Cyclones 5 on 4 struggles dealing with pressure against teams that skate well enough to take away space. The Boys do well getting the puck to the scoring areas against passive penalty kills and against teams that try to pressure but don’t skate well enough to do so consistently. When the pressure is on the Team struggles to get pucks out of corners or off of the half wall.  When the puck does get rotated to the point shots are taken hastily into the oppositions shin gaurds or the pressure is rotated along with the puck, both scenarios usually result in the the puck being cleared. Motherwell and O’Hanely seem to deal with the pressure fairly well and moving Ehgoetz to the blue line has helped but the goals still aren’t coming.

The answer as I stated in my last entry is not shooting at every opportunity. Sure, you won’t score on 100% of the shots you don’t take, but power plays are about patience and working for high percentage chances. There is no use in taking a power play shot from the point if there is no one around the front of the net screening the goalie or in position for a rebound. Additionally teams have been doing an excellent job of pressuring the points, taking away passing lanes and forcing the puck down the wall.

At any level of hockey a consistent power play involves 3 things, and really they are the same 3 things that successful 5 on 5 play is based on. First, quick, accurate puck movement. Secondly, player rotation and cycling to create mismatches, open space and odd man situations. And finally the ability to finish.

During 5 on 5 play as well as 5 on 4 play, the Cyclones manage the puck well with passing and cycling. Even when going against a high pressure PK the Boys look best when they cycle  almost as if They were playing even strength. It makes the opposition scramble and creates more open areas. However, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend on the 5 on 3 Power Plays lately. The passing is out standing but it should be with the lack of any substantial movement of the players. If the players aren’t moving it makes life a bit easier for the penalty killers since they don’t have to move either. There has to be some sort of movement to open up shooting lanes or to create cross ice passing lanes for one timers. It can be as simple as the rotation of the puck side forward and point man, the rotation of the screen man with one of the other forwards down low, or rotating to more of an umbrella formation with a single point man at the center blue line with the other point man and one forward moving to the half wall. It doesn’t matter how they move really as long as there is some type of movement to force the penalty killers to move and open up their zone.

If there is one thing the Cyclones do succeed at it is generating shot scoring chances. I for one like the patience they show in generating high percentage chances with their Power Play; and they DO generate them; they just can’t seem to find the back of the net. I don’t think I’ve witnessed a team get as many unlucky bounces on the Power Play as this years Squad as rebounds bounce past them on the wrong side and goalies make unbelievable toe saves; it’s enough to make any team press and feel like the Hockey Gods are out to get them. Early on even I played it off as bad luck stating that at some point things would “click” and the goals would come but they haven’t, at least not with enough consistency. It’s one thing to go through a game and get unlucky bounces, but at this point, it can no longer be dismissed as chance.

Could things be turning around? Jimmy Kilpatrick now as 3 goals in 3 games; all 3 have been Power Play goals. Perhaps, he is the spark the Power Play has been searching for. Only time will tell. One thing is for certain, with the number of close games the Cyclones have been involved in so far this season, there is no reason the ‘Clones can’t run away with the Division and possibly provide the home fans with a few pulled pork sandwiches, if They can find the consistency from the Power Play the will no doubt be needed to make a deep playoff run.

-Mike-

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Comments
  1. joe says:

    A very good in depth analysis of the Cyclone PP.

    The 5 on 3 is about as bad as I’ve seen in terms of being able to compress the opponent’s triangle. Josza and Motherwell usually don’t end up more than 10 feet inside the blueline after having 30 seconds of uninterrupted possession.

    I think a large part of the problem is that neither of the two can pass a puck on the tape of the other for his life. These marginally off target passes allow the PK to adjust with very little effort as the 5 on 3 (5 on 4 as well) lacks the precision passing which stresses the penalty killers and allows for the open man for the easy scoring chances a good 5 on 3 allows.

    If the Cyclones didn’t cycle the puck as well as they do (a Weber-caoched team trademark), then this pp could be staring at an even lower conversion ratio.

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