The Maple Leafs 5-forward powerplay has been a worthwhile experiment but not an improvement

The Maple Leafs 5-forward powerplay has been a worthwhile experiment but not an improvement

I’m watching this before the Jets game so one of two things happened. Maybe the Leafs had a great spurt of productivity on the powerplay that nullified and nullified what you’re about to read (not a bad result, if you’re a Leafs fan you probably want to know what they’re working on) or the powerplay whether they used a five forward powerplay or not, In that case you might as well keep reading.

The thing about the five-forward powerplay unit is that I like that Keefe tried it. I’m not sure I’m thrilled he’s going back to it, but it’s an interesting option at Leaf’s disposal. For some teams that use fast forwards, and their top six talent on the penalty kill, the effectiveness of the 5-forward system is not ideal, but if you have the opportunity to pin down two checking line forwards and two with home defensemen. With your top five offensive players on the ice, it makes sense.

It looks like it will be something used situationally, but it will take some regular use to build comfort with it. If Keef and the Leafs do that, again, I don’t take issue with it, all I want to do is measure its success.

Power play

TOI

Cf

ca

CF%

GF

GA

GF%

xGF

xGA

xGF%

HDCF

HDCA

HDCF%

5 forward

34.62

78

8

90.7

5

2

71.43

5.76

0.74

88.62

24

4

85.71

Core 4 + 1D

116.05

238

25

90.49

25

1

96.15

23.87

1.41

94.42

81

5

94.19

rate

Power play

TOI

CF/60

CA/60

CF%

GF/60

GA/60

GF%

xGF/60

xGA/60

xGF%

HDCF/60

HDCA/60

HDCF%

5 forward

34.62

135.19

13.87

90.7

8.67

3.47

71.43

9.98

1.28

88.62

41.6

6.93

85.71

Core 4 + 1D

116.05

123.05

12.93

90.49

12.93

0.52

96.15

12.34

0.73

94.42

41.88

2.59

94.19

The results we’ve seen so far definitely favor the tried and tested approach of 4F+1D. With the exception of throwing more pucks in the general direction of the opponents’ net, everything else favors having a 4F+1D over a 5F system. The most worrying factor is the increase in the number of shorthanded goals. With little growth against shot attempts, it says something about the impact of having a player who better understands the positional play of an odd man rush and their role in a defenseman’s responsibility to recover the puck in that situation.

There’s also something to be said for the Leafs’ depth when it comes to powerplay defensemen. As it sits now the Leafs second powerplay unit is strictly served with two defensemen because the 2nd and 3rd best offensive defensemen are more capable than the 6th-8th best offensive forwards. However you choose to slice it, Riley, Timmins, Sandin, Liljegren and Giordano are all capable of playing those minutes, and honestly, on some teams in this league, even Justin Hall could be the second unit PP guy. Not using offensively capable defensemen seems like it’s potentially watering down both powerplay units.

This almost brings us to one problem, and that’s what the Leafs’ second unit looks like. If you have a top unit of Tavares, Matthews, Marner, Nylander and Riley, that leaves Michael Bunting in the unfortunate situation of trying to run a second unit with basically defensemen. Whether Kerfoot, Jarnkrok, Ngvall, or whoever is with him, he has no one to work with besides the point, and it becomes a very one-dimensional powerplay of taking the puck to the point for a one-timer and hoping that bunting rebounds. Can catch, deflect the puck or screen the goaltender. The biggest problem seems to be that the Leafs are one offensive away from convincing their units. To a lesser degree here you miss someone like Nick Robertson, to a greater degree this was always going to be something that needed the trade deadline to provide relief.

As I said above, there are advantages to what the Leafs are doing. The 5 forward power play can lend itself to being beneficial in certain situations, and the Leafs extend it to their back pocket. The 5-forward approach is also getting Michael Bunting some reps on that top unit, and depending on who the Leafs bring in between now and the trade deadline, it might make more sense for Bunting to stay with that top unit and move someone like Tavares or Nylander to give it a spark in the second unit. For, it is also speculated that the Leafs will add Matthew Nice who will play a similar role to the second unit with Bunting playing on the top unit.

Alternatives are good. It’s good to experiment with things over the course of an 82 game season. It’s not just the results that have been great. And while I won’t mourn the end of 5 Forward Powerplay, I’m thankful it was tried.

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