After Saturday night's 3-1 victory over Colgate, I talked a bit about the effectiveness of St. Cloud's power play in my game thoughts:
-Colgate was definitely playing with fire in the first period when they took three straight penalties, and on the third, they were finally burned. The Raiders overloaded their left side with both defensemen on the penalty kill to match-up with St. Cloud's power play which overloads Kalle Kossila and Joey Benik on their right wing. That left a forward covering Brodzinski on the weak side. Benik made a great read to get the puck to Brodzinski and Brodzinski was able to get two whacks at the puck and put it in before the Colgate defender could get to him.
I wanted to take the chance to expand on that a little bit and talk about what St. Cloud was doing on the power play that made it so effective.
First, we'll start with the St. Cloud power play formation. The Huskies set up on their power play by overloading the right side of the ice. They put two forwards on the right boards(RW Joey Benik, and C Kalle Kossila), the third forward(LW Patrick Russell) in front of the net, the right defenseman(RD Ethan Prow) somewhere between the center of the ice and right boards along the blue line, and the left defenseman(LD--though normally a forward--Jonny Brodzinski) covering the entire left side of the ice.
Against your standard box penalty kill, their ideal set-up is going to look something like this:
Most of the action with the puck is going to happen between Kossila, Benik, and Prow working the puck around the right side of the ice. All three are really good at handling the puck and are very dangerous players. Many times, St. Cloud will give the puck to Kossila up high and let him try to freelance something(Garrett Roe was fantastic at this for the SCSU power play years ago).
To counter that, Colgate switched up their penalty kill to look more like this:
It's essentially the same box set-up, but flipped on its' side. Because Colgate knows that St. Cloud wants the puck on the right side of the ice, they put their two best defenders over there, including a defenseman to try and keep Kossila under wraps.
Here's what the set-up looks like in real life:
There's numerous ways to attack out of this formation, but we'll focus on one of the biggest ones, which St. Cloud used to success on Saturday: Having Joey Benik make a cross-ice pass to Jonny Brodzinski.
Brodzinski is all by himself over there, so he's dangerous if he gets the puck. But getting the puck to him requires getting a pass through all four defenders; not an easy thing to do. St. Cloud does have an advantage though. If Brodzinski sneaks down from the left point, Colgate's RW playing in front of the net is now responsible for covering Russell and Brodzinski. He's in a tough spot because he's got to cover a player that he can't see while looking at the puck. St. Cloud just needs Benik, Russell, and Brodzinski to work together and open up a passing lane.
We'll start with Benik who has the puck along the half boards. Colgate's defender is coming to challenge him, and Benik has the option of either taking the puck up the boards, or taking the puck down the boards towards the goal line.
In our first example, Benik is going to catch a pass and take the puck up the boards.
Russell sees Benik going north up the boards, and reacts by moving south, down below the goal line. This serves two functions. First, if Benik doesn't have a play that he can make, he can do the safe thing and throw the puck down along the boards on the cycle, where Russell can get it and maintain possession. The second function of Russell doing that is that he is trying to draw the defenseman down below the goal line with him, which is what happens on this play.
Finally, Brodzinski is reacting off of what Russell does. When Russell goes below the goal line, Brodzinski knows to position himself more towards the face-off dot rather than hanging down towards the goal line.
Russell drawing the defenseman lower, with Brodzinski sitting higher opens up just enough of a passing lane for Benik to get the puck through to Brodzinski:
The Colgate defenseman has no hope of getting into that passing lane, giving Brodzinski a clear shot at the goal once he gets the pass. Once on both Friday and Saturday night, St. Cloud was able to work this play and Brodzinski teed up the big one-timer. Both times, he didn't connect solidly with it--chalk it up to early season sloppiness--or else it's a goal 9 times out of 10 . This time, Brodzinski opted against the shot, and one-timed a slap pass back to Russell, who was left all alone after the Colgate defender tried to recover to Brodzinski. Russell just misses on the tip-in or it would have been an easy goal.
Benik's second option is to make a play from down by the goal line. In this example, he's set up below the goal line, where he'll receive a pass from Kossila. This time, when Russell sees Benik move south, he is going to head north. He goes from the top of the crease to the hash marks, making himself available for a quick pass-and-shoot. The Colgate defender has to defend that and goes out to cover Russell.
When Russell brings that defenseman into the slot with him, Brodzinski takes that cue to slide down to the top of the crease. Once again, Benik has a passing lane to get Brodzinski the puck in scoring position.
Charlie Finn makes a fantastic save to slide across the crease and stop Brodzinski once, but Brodzinski is so wide open that he has time to get another whack at the puck before the defender can get over to him, and the second time, he chips the puck over Finn's pad for the goal, and St. Cloud takes a 2-0 lead.
If you want to watch both plays on video, NCHC.tv has them back-to-back in their video highlights of the game, beginning at the 1:00 mark of the video.