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Up-to-the minute updates and insights from the Red Wings locker room at home and on the road. By Chuck Pleiness of The Macomb Daily.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Red Wings' two-man disadvantage

If it is goal scoring that you enjoy, then don't stray from the television set when there's a 5-on-3 power play. Not during a Detroit Red Wings game at least.

A big component of why the Red Wings have had bloated scores this season -- Detroit leads the NHL in goals scored per game and has allowed the ninth most goals against per game -- has been 5-on-3 play.

Obviously, more goals are scored with a two-man advantage than with a one-man advantage or at even strength. But during 5-on-3s, no team comes close to the pinball action and goal-light flashing that happens at Red Wings games.

Entering Thursday night's game in Edmonton (9 p.m, FSN), there have been 10 5-on-3 goals scored during Red Wings games this season -- four by Detroit and six by opponents. That's double the next highest total of five (Buffalo). The league average is 2.6 combined 5-on-3 goals for and against.

"We take too many penalties," said Detroit coach Mike Babcock. "Stop taking penalties. To me, that's focus."

The Red Wings are the second least penalized team in the NHL. But Babcock's point is valid when it comes to penalties taken while short-handed. Detroit has had to defend a 5-on-3 11 times in 17 games while being on a two-man advantage just eight times.

"There are more 5-on-3s," said Andreas Lilja, who partners with Nicklas Lidstrom on Detroit's top short-handed unit. "You think like that as a player, 'OK, I can get away with a little bit more when I'm short-handed.' But this year, they don't care if you're 4-on-5, 3-on-5, 3-on-6, they'll call a penalty. If it's a penalty, they'll call it."

The lengths of two-man advantages are part of the problem. In a 7-6 loss to Pittsburgh last week, Johan Franzen preceded Valtteri Filppula to the penalty box by just six seconds. The Red Wings weathered the first 1:13 of the 1:54 of 5-on-3 time with Sidney Crosby -- the 2007 Hart Trophy winner -- and Evgeni Malkin -- a 2008 Hart finalist -- firing away. But finally Malkin found the back of the net.

"Five-on-threes are normally like 20 seconds," said Babcock. "We killed the first 1:13, didn't we? We were unbelievable. How long are you going to give Crosby and Malkin the chance to fire away?"

Last season, the Red Wings allowed seven 5-on-3 goals in 82 regular-season games. That figure is up to six in the first 17 games of this season.

Statistically, the problem isn't an either/or situation. The Red Wings are spending more time killing off 5-on-3 power plays and they've been less effective in those situations.

This season, the Red Wings are fourth worst in the NHL in 5-on-3 goals allowed per 60 minutes of ice time (40.6) and sixth worst in 5-on-3 shots allowed per 60 minutes (121.8), according to

All of last season, the Red Wings had to kill off 15.1 minutes of 5-on-3 time, but had a two-man advantage for 27.3 minutes. This season, the Red Wings have already been on the wrong side of 5-on-3s for 8.9 minutes and been on the right side for 8.0 minutes.

Short-handed more often and worse at short-handed defense.

"Of course you hope that you can play better," said Henrik Zetterberg, who is the first option at forward for Detroit defending 5-on-3s. "But they always put their best players out there on a two-man advantage. They should score. But I think also, some of them we could have had. They will create some good chances. You have to make a big save or a big block to get out of it."


Blogger James said...

It seems to me that there are problems with prorating 5-on-3 and 3-on-5 ice time out to 60 minutes. As is shown, a team doesn't even get 60 minutes worth of either situation in an entire season, which often inflates numbers to statistically pointless values. The sample size is simply too small to make any statistically significant findings using this prorating formula for any of the 2-man-advantage situations' effectiveness.

Another problem is that the number of 2-man scenarios isn't provided as a guide here (or at, at least I couldn't find it in my search). We all know that killing a 1-minute 2 man penalty is MUCH harder than killing 6 individual 10-second 2 man penalties (or even 10 6-second ones). A team could easily kill those 6 10-second 3-on-5 situations, but would be unlikely to kill the entire 1-minute situation, despite the fact that this would be the same amount of "time" spent on a 3-on-5 kill (one whole minute). If they let in 1 goal for that single 1-minute kill, that would be prorated to 60 GA/60 when killing a 2-man advantage, yet if they were to kill all 6 of the 10-second 2-man advantages (completely ignoring whether or not they gave up a goal after they went back to a single penalty to kill), their stat here would be 0 GA/60. Comparing those two numbers, you'd think that you would have completely different teams with different abilities to kill a 2-man advantage, when in reality all you had was one team let in one goal in a very long kill, and the other team do a good job of killing 6 shorter situations. The same issue applies to the opposite situations, when the team is attempting to score in a 5-on-3.

I would suggest that, when looking at these stats, we make sure to include the number of 2-man advantages (either way) to get a sense of how long each situation, on average, has been. Unfortunately, I have no idea where to find that statistic, as it's not on or even the NHL's site. I would guess that the average length for the Wings' 3-on-5 kill this year is MUCH larger than last year's, meaning that the amount of goals they've let in is nowhere near as bad as it sounds. However it DOES emphasize the necessity for a lot more discipline among the players when killing a penalty!

November 19, 2008 at 8:35 AM 
Blogger Bruce MacLeod said...

James ... very well thought out statistical analysis. I love it. I agree with you about length of penalty-kill. And it's impossible to find numbers of 5-on-3s. The NHL really should make those numbers available. I don't think the average time on each kill would be perfect although I too want that number. You could have a 51 second PK and 9 1-second PKs and that would equal, in terms of average, 10 10-second PKs. But the opportunity to score would be different even though the averages would be the exact same. But ... I do think that would be better than what we have.

November 19, 2008 at 8:50 AM 
Anonymous Greg Thomas said...

Too bad the NHL doesn't make those numbers available. It is obvious that there have been more 5 on 3's this year, and it also seems to me (observation, not necessarily fact) that a team that is multiple goals down, or not playing well, seem to get them. Could this be a Gary Bettman conspiracy to keep close games and more scoring?

November 20, 2008 at 12:40 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lllja sucks, he should be deported.

November 21, 2008 at 5:31 PM 
Blogger Hawerchuk said...

First time ever that anyone has asked these questions about 5-on-3. It happens so infrequently that I write it off as pure luck and not due to inherent PK skills - a bad PK team would get scored on before it had the chance to take another penalty.

Anyways, now that I think about it, 5-on-3s could do with some analysis. I'm on the case...

November 27, 2008 at 1:47 PM 

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