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Studying Hockey Systems for Goaltending: Powerplay

Studying Hockey Systems for Goaltending: Powerplay

“Make him (the goalie) move from side to side as much as you can. Don’t let him get comfortable so that he knows he has all of his angles covered. Force him to constantly move side to side and in and out, eventually losing his bearings and positioning.”

-Mike Keenan on a successful power play

The power play is unquestionably the biggest scoring threat in hockey. Therefore, as is often said, the goalie must be a team’s best penalty killer. A power play gives a goalie many threats such as screen shots with deflections, passes across, pass outs from behind the net, walk-outs or wraparounds and side rebounds.

There are a number of power play formations to be aware of and each power play has some common scoring patterns. In this month’s instalment of Studying Hockey Systems for Goaltending we will examine the Side Overload formation, shooting options and common set plays that a goaltender should be familiar with. As reading the play and reacting quickly and correctly is a skill that sets a goaltender apart from his peers, being aware and understanding common patterns is important for a goaltender who wants to improve his game. Future articles will look at other formations such as the umbrella and 1-3-1 formation.

Identifying the Power Play (Shooting or Passing)

Regardless of the power play formation, each power play unit has the tendency to either shoot or pass to score. A “Shooting Power Play” is often employed by the unit with big shooter(s) from the point or the top of the circles plus gritty power forwards with screen, tip or rebound opportunities in front of the net. On the other hand, a “Passing Power Play” is for the unit with skillful playmakers on the half boards and in the corner who try to pass inside of the slot for quick shots. Some coaches even choose to assign shooting power plays to one unit and passing to another unit. Therefore it’s very beneficial to study and analyze what kind of power play each unit tends to do before the game.

Finding “The Shooter”

Whether it is a shooting power play or a passing power play, most power play units have the primary shooter who takes the majority of shots no matter how many passes the unit would make before. In other words, most power plays are built to get most out of “the shooter” either intentionally or unintentionally.

“The pass from puck handler to shooter is the key part of the power play.”
– Mike Keenan

5 on 4 Side Overload Power Play

Basic setup and shooting lanes

5 on 4 side overload powerplay hockey

Diagram 1. 5 on 4 Side Overload Powerplay. Green areas indicate the tree primary shooting lanes commonly available.

The 5-on-4 Side Overload Power Play is the formation that places F1 around the half board, F2 in the corner, F3 in front of the net, D1 and D2 at the point area along the blue line.

The first thing you have to recognize in this power play has three primary shooting lanes. When the power play unit is running a shooting power play, one of these shooting lanes will be the primary option. The goalie needs to prepare for a shot through traffic and possible rebound to the backdoor.

Shooting Lane 1

F1 on the half board has the first shooting lane. F1 is usually an “off-wing” shooter as a left handed shooter on the right side and vice versa. F1 usually shoots after couple of passes with F2 or D1, with screen or tip in front of the net by F3 and or F2. F1 often slides up towards the top of the circle to rotate into Umbrella or 1-3-1 formations.

Shooting Lane 2

D1 on the strong side point is the second shooting lane. F3 and/or F2 would be in front of the net for a tip or screen. D1 often slides along the blue line to rotate into Umbrella or 1-3-1 formations.

Shooting Lane 3

D2 on the weak side point is the third shooting lane. D2 may take one timer if he/she is an “off-wing” shooter. F3 and/or F2 will be the options for tip or screen. D3 often slides down towards the top of the circle to rotate into Umbrella or 1-3-1 formations.

We will ow take a look at the “Passing Power Play” options from the side overload formation. Almost all passing options in this formation start or go through F1 on the half board or F2 in the corner.

The Pass and Go Set Play (Diagram 2)

Pass and go set play from 5 on 4 side overload powerplay

The “Pass and Go” is a classic yet still effective set play. F1 on the side board moves the puck to F2 in the corner, sneaks into the slot to receive the return pass for the shot. As the puck moves to the corner, the goalie needs to go back to the post quickly and may set up with VH or RVH position. Timing and angle are very important when the goalie is coming out for the shot. The goalie must aim to meet the shooters stick precisely in order to become square to the shot. In the video clip below, Quick was just a little too late to come out from the post as you can see his body was still leaning on the post when the puck got to Kane’s stick at 0:41 mark.

Corner or Half Board to Slot

5 on 4 hockey powerplay side overload corner or halfboard to slot

F3’s main job is to stay in front of the net to create some traffic; however, F3 could skate away from in front of the net and find the soft spot in the slot for the shot.

Corner or Half Board to Backdoor

corner or halfboard to backdoor 5 on 4 powerplay ice hockey

When F3 is sliding to the backdoor, the goalie has to be aware of the pass across from half board or corner. The goalie needs to slide across the crease toward the post for these backdoor plays. Push hard, turn your upper body, seal the ice and post with RVH or compact butterfly position.

Corner or Half Board to Weak Side DF

Corner or Half Board to Weak Side DF

In this option, weak side DF is coming all the way down to the backdoor instead of F3. F3 usually stays in front of the net as a decoy in this play so it is confusing for the goalie and DF. Again, sliding across the crease towards the post is the way to go.

Although the Side Overload is the classic and still popular power play formation to start with, not many teams would stay in the formation too long nowadays. In our next article we will cover the transformation from side overload into the umbrella or 1-3-1 formation.

Hiroki Wakabayashi is a USA level 5 certified hockey coach from Japan. Hiroki has coached goalies and teams in Japan, Canada, USA and five other countries in last twenty years. His work varies from professional teams, national teams (Hong Kong), Junior and NHL drafted goalies to youth hockey level. Heroki is currently working with Arizona Jr. Coyotes.

About The Author

Hiroki Wakabayashi

Hiroki Wakabayashi is a USA level 5 certified hockey coach from Japan. Hiroki has coached goalies and teams in Japan, Canada, USA and five other countries in last twenty years. His work varies from professional teams, national teams (Hong Kong), Junior and NHL drafted goalies to youth hockey level. Heroki is currently working with Arizona Jr. Coyotes.


  1. T Hertz

    In no way do I find what you are presenting here to be a revolutionary idea and in no way are you implying that it is. Goaltenders study film like other players and should always be aware of team systems for a PK, PP and transitional play, at minimum. If they don’t then they are foolish. Goaltenders are generally intelligent and should always listen at the boards when the coach is speaking and drawing on the coach-mate. For those readers who did not realize the importance of this, you have enlightened them which is great. Of note, I found it far more interesting to read your thesis for USA hockey regarding variable net size. Interesting and worth a friendly exchange, but unlike football (soccer) nets I don think it is necessary despite fully appreciating the argument you made in your paper. Best Wishes !

    • Hiroki Wakabayashi

      Thank you for your comment.
      Yes, I do know this is not revolutionary idea or whatsoever. There should be reasons that many of good coaches are ex-goalies. I’m just trying to give some ideas to help analyzing the game from “the other side of the ice”, especially for younger goalies who starts learning hockey as a whole.
      I’m glad to hear you liked my thesis for USA Hockey. For what reason you wouldn’t think it is necessary to introduce smaller nets for younger age group as U8? I know there are teams and leagues that try mini-nets for younger group and they seem pretty successful.

  2. T Hertz

    I will re-read your paper and get back to you next week some time. I don’t have time this week.

  3. Rob Day

    Nice to have this all in one area and good visual presentation. I’m sure it is out there in other presentations but nice that you combined with InGoal mag to put it in one place. Thanks for compiling.

  4. JFB

    Great article, @ T Hertz remember not everyone gets to grow up playing organized hockey. Never hurts to go over basics!

  5. Adam

    Great article! Nice job, but I would’ve liked for it to also have videos in which we see for each powerplay option a goalie who successfully countered the threat, if you could include this in your next article it’d be perfect!

  6. Hiroki Wakabayashi

    Rob & JFB> Thank you for the encouraging comments! I keep working on compiling hockey system knowledge for goaltending.

    Adam>Yes, you are very right on that. I’ll try to find some clips with successful saves towards the scoring chances. I’ve already watched ALL THE PP GOALS from NHL 2014 playoffs but here I go again to find good saves 😉

  7. Jason Power

    Just came across these articles…good job! Agree with above posters not only is this good for goalies to be aware of but for the coaches out there that read this site, it is very useful information as well!

    Lately I have found that what seems obvious to me or colleagues is revolutionary for others.

    Keep up the good work.