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Playing the System: New-Look Power Play

A change in alignment and mentality has already netted positive results for the first power play unit.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The first power play unit may feature mostly familiar faces, but the fresh setup and mentality worked on in the off-season looked pretty shrewd when Zach Parise blasted a one-timer past Semyon Varlamov to seal his hat-trick and an unlikely Wild victory. Now I'm not here to declare the power play is fixed by any stretch of the imagination, I still think having Mikael Granlund and his muffin-blaster of a shot in the trigger position on the half-wall is ill-advised, Ryan Suter as the primary shooter from the point is odd when there are likely three better options on the bench behind him, and Jason Pominville as a net-front presence is an obvious poor fit. That being said, these are all talented players and there are ways the first power play unit can be effective.

Coming into the season the Wild changed from a right-wall setup to a left-wall setup to make it easier for Suter to one-time the puck from the blue line. This alignment also pushes Parise away from the net to the upper circle area on the right side (where he scored from), and gives him more one-time/playmaking opportunities. Even with all the positional changes, the success of this unit seems to hinge on Suter adapting the Matt Dumba mindset of MASH-MASH-MASH when the puck is sent to him.

Last year Suter was extremely passive in his quarterbacking of the power play, he shot the puck at a very low rate and velocity, often electing for a safe wrist-shot that had less of a chance at being blocked. What that passive mindset did was allow teams to collapse their penalty kill to the passing lanes and take away the one-time looks that Suter was looking to get for Pominville or Mikko Koivu. It's much the same as a big man in basketball who can't shoot threes positioning himself at the three point line; defenses don't have to respect the threat of a shot and so they can put more focus on where the actual threats are coming from. In the case of last year's power play, defenses posted up in the shooting lanes of Pominville and Koivu because there was almost zero threat from Suter as a shooter. In essence, when Suter was working on his one-timers with Parise this offseason, he was working on becoming a three-point threat that could space the defense and get some open looks for the actual high-threat shooters.

To start the game-winning power play on Thursday the Wild ran what looked to be a set play off the faceoff.

Koivu wins the faceoff back to Suter, who then moves it across to Granlund. Granlund holds the puck as Suter circles all the way out of the zone to gather momentum as he steps into a healthy one-timer laid out perfectly by Granlund. This is a tone-setting sequence if there ever was one. Look how much room Suter is given by the defense, Suter's shot here is him baring his teeth in a respect-my-shot kind of way.

Just 30 seconds later on the same power play Parise moves the puck to Suter, the defender on Parise's side makes a heavy move in Suter's direction to eliminate the shooting lane. This allows Parise to drift slightly into the middle of the ice putting him in a more dangerous one-time position. Suter makes a perfect no-look pass back to Parise - who only has one Avalanche defender left on his side of the ice - and he bombs the game winner past Varlamov. 

Suter may not be the most dynamic weapon on the power play, but if he sticks to a mentality that forces defenses to respect his shot, he can then use his superb passing ability to get the puck to the real weapons on the ice who will have more space to operate.