HALIFAX – If the United States goes on to do something special at this year’s World Championship—and it is showing glimpses that this might just happen—it will almost surely be the result of its success on the power play. The USA leads all nations with eleven power play goals on just 27 chances, a whopping 40.7 per cent success rate.
“In camp, we worked on two things the most,” coach John Tortorella noted. “We worked on our neutral zone forecheck and our power play.” It shows, that’s for sure.
Tortorella took a common-sense approach to the extra man situation, breaking the advantage down into sections. “We wanted to lay the foundation for success by dealing with every aspect of the power play—the breakout, puck retrieval, and creativity.”
Of course, the first two things are chalkboard concerns that can be taught and practiced, but creativity is far less tangible. “A lot of it is instinct,” Phil Kessel agreed. “We’ve got some pretty good players out there.”
Another aspect of success is good old-fashioned common sense. “We want our guys to take what the other team gives us,” Tortorella acknowledged. “They have to be patient, but it’s really important for them not to over-think. And I also want to be sure not to over-coach.”
At the same time, the team has learned quickly and made adjustments, even during games. Against Germany, for instance, the players moved in a circle for more than a minute, passing the puck around but not generating any shots.
“We more or less killed that penalty for the Germans,” Tortorella agreed, “but they surprised us. We thought they’d be more aggressive, so we wanted to move the puck around and draw one of their defenceman to us to free a man somewhere else. They didn’t do that, so we went back to taking what they would give.”
That is where creativity and instinct comes in. Sometimes a good power play means getting the puck to the middle of the point for a slapshot with traffic in front; other times it means looking for a man to the back side of the goalie or a player in the slot, in the middle of the box.
The team has five players with two power-play goals each—Kessel, Zach Parise, Dustin Brown, Jason Pominville, and Pat Kane. “The coach had an idea from the NHL who played on the power play with their club teams, so he knew when we got together who would be effective,” Pominville said.
“We ran through several groups before deciding who would be on our two power-play units,” Tortorella added, “but I’m very happy with what we have. “Power plays and penalty kills can be very streaky things, but even if these guys run into trouble, I’m not breaking them up. I have a lot of confidence in them.” Eleven goals in 27 chances will do that to a coach.