Harrison Mooney is one of the co-founders of Pass it to Bulis, the hockey blog that knows who needs the puck. He spends an inordinate amount of time longing for a better life. This article originally appeared at PITB, but sometimes Harrison wants people to read his writing, so he posts here as well.
Despite its excellence, the questions regarding Newell Brown's powerplay have yet to subside. Brown has come under criticism for his choice to move Ryan Kesler from the second unit powerplay to the first, a decision that has left the second unit without much of a cohesive identity or a threatening presence. It's been clear to fans and media that the Canucks' second powerplay formation is not awesome. What may not be clear is that Newell Brown and the rest of the coaching staff couldn't care less.
Brown knew what he was doing when he overloaded that first unit; in reality, moving Kesler was a stroke of genius. The Sedins, Kesler, Edler, and Ehrhoff were last season's five top powerplay producers, netting 116 of the Canucks' 198 total points a man up. But the interesting thing is that Ryan Kesler was playing on a completely separate unit from the other four. Despite that, Kesler led the team last year with 12 powerplay goals, and he only had one less powerplay point (26) than Art Ross winner Henrik (27). He wasn't just good; you could argue he was Canucks' best player with the man advantage. That makes whatever unit he's on the top powerplay unit. Rather than consider him the promoted player, consider the other four promoted to play with him.
Kesler took some time to adjust early in the season, and we were as critical as anyone. But now, everyone's benefitting from Brown's coaching choice. This season, the first unit has 48 of the Canucks' 66 total points with the man advantage. It's the best five-man powerplay unit in the NHL.
Heck, one good unit is really all you need. Stop thinking about the two minutes and start thinking about the end goal: a goal. Powerplays end if the team scores, so why not cobble together one unit you trust to get it done? If you think about it, you should only need one unit. The second only comes on if the first doesn't score. Who cares about them? You live and die with your top players.
Even if you give the second unit one decent guy to play with (such as Kesler), more often than not, he's the catalyst. Don't mitigate him by putting him out with second-rate scorers; make him more dangerous. Why not play to your strengths and make the powerplay an intimidating time when a team's best offensive weapon gets together to make their opponents pay?
I'd rather have one formation I trust to get the goal and the momentum that comes with it than two formations that could. Newell Brown apparently feels the same way.
It's this sort of forward thinking that explains why Vancouver's special teams are thriving under him. The Canucks' powerplay is operating at a 26.4% success rate, a full two percentage points higher than the second place Washington Capitals. As it stands, Vancouver is handily the best power play team in the league. In fact, with their penalty-kill sitting 3rd in the NHL at 87.4%, Vancouver is playing with the best overall special teams in the NHL.
That's pretty hard to criticize.