What Is a Power Play in Hockey? The Definitive Guide

Hockey goalie secures the puck against himself.

If you’ve ever watched an ice hockey game, there is a good chance you have witnessed a power play. It might sound like an odd name for something in sports and truth be told, there isn’t anything quite like it.

So, what is a power play in hockey?

A power play is when a team has extra players on the ice because one or two players on the opposing team committed a penalty. Players who commit a penalty have to sit in the penalty box, while the other team skates at full strength or with four skaters. Power plays are great scoring opportunities.

The penalty box, penalty kill, and power play are all important parts of the game of hockey. For players, it takes years to master the penalty kill or power play, and for fans it can take a while to fully understand the intricacies of what is happening with the power play.

To flesh out some of those details and explain how the power play works we have included the following:

How Long Do Power Plays Last in Hockey?

The length of a power play usually depends on how long the player who committed the penalty needs to sit in the penalty box. Of all the penalties in hockey, the two-minute minor penalty is the most common.

That means the player who committed the penalty sits in the penalty box for two minutes. His team is then only allowed to have four players on the ice during that time.

While a player is in the penalty box, the opposing team is on the power play and has two full minutes to play five against four, or with the man advantage as it is often called. Some penalties, however, are more severe and can last four or even five minutes.

During that length of time, the team of the player that committed the penalty will be shorthanded and the other team will have a power play.

It is also worth noting that two players from a team can be in the penalty box at the same time if they both committed penalties. In that case, they can only have three players on the ice during that time and the opposing team will have a five-on-three power play.

Obviously, if that is the case, it makes defending the team with more players very difficult.

Most power plays end when the time on the penalty runs out. If it was a minor penalty, then the power play ends after two minutes.

However, if the team on the power play scores a goal during the power play, the penalty is over, the player is permitted to leave the penalty box, and the team that scored is no longer on the power play.

The rule is different for major penalties though. If a player is sent to the box for a major penalty, they have to stay there for five minutes regardless if the opposing team scores a goal or not.

Do Power Plays Carry Over to the Next Period?

Hockey player with the puck looks to pass it.

If a player commits a penalty with less than two minutes left in a period, the remainder of the penalty time carries over to the next period. This can be an even greater advantage to the team with the power play as they will start the next period, which will have fresh ice, with a man advantage.

When Do Power Plays End?

As noted above, the two most common ways for a power play to end is for the time on the penalty to run out or for the team on the power play to score a goal.

However, a third ending is possible. If one of the players on the team on the power play commits a penalty, then he will have to sit in the penalty box for two minutes and his team will only be allowed four players on the ice for the duration of his penalty.

This means that the two teams will now play four-on-four rather than the standard five-on-five.

It is also possible for teams to have two players per team in the penalty box which results in the teams playing three-on-three until those players’ penalties are over and they are released from the box.

What Is a Penalty Kill in Hockey?

When a player on a team commits a penalty it puts a lot of pressure on the rest of the team as they will have to play for the next two minutes with one less player than the other team.

This is called the penalty kill. Usually, the strongest defensive players on a team play on the penalty kill, and penalty kill strategy is something they work on regularly during practice.

One typical penalty kill strategy is called “The Box,” named because the four players create a box formation in their defensive zone in an attempt to try to keep the puck away from their net and closer to the sideboards where a goal is less likely to occur.

Another common penalty kill formation is called “The Diamond.” With “The Diamond,” the four defensive players form a diamond shape with one player directly in front of the net, one player up further to his right, one to his left, and one even farther up and straight up from the net.

While there are several other common strategies, all penalty kills are difficult as the team is playing shorthanded.

There is, however, one advantage a team has while playing on the penalty kill, they are allowed to shoot the puck to the other end of the ice without icing being called.

Normally, if a player shoots the puck from their side of the red line to the end of the rink it is icing. When this happens, the referee blows the whistle and a face-off occurs in the end of the team that committed the icing.

But on the penalty kill, icing isn’t called and a team can send the puck to the other end as much as they want.

While it is rare, it is possible to score a goal on the penalty kill. This is called a shorthanded goal.

Power Play Strategies in Hockey

Hockey player shoots the puck on net.

Because the power play in hockey, or man advantage, is a good chance to score a goal, teams also spend a great deal of time working on their power play strategy during practice. Usually, the best players on the team are on the power play and the goal is to set up a play in the offensive zone.

One power play strategy is called the umbrella because the five players on the ice form an umbrella shape while they are trying to score.

One player, often a defenseman, stands near the blue line in the center of the offensive zone with one player towards the boards on his right and one on his left.

The two other players stand near the goal, one on either side. The three players at the top of the umbrella pass the puck between themselves trying to get the penalty kill to move out of position.

When one of the top three players sees an opening, they take a shot with the hope that it will go in or that one of the two players near the net will deflect the puck or be able to put the rebound in the net.

Other power play strategies like the overload require more movement and rotation on the part of the players. While having a man advantage truly is an advantage, it doesn’t always result in a goal.

A good power play usually scores on one out of five or one out of four chances. A power play success rate over 25% would be stellar.

Power Play and Shorthanded Goal Leaders

In the NHL, power plays are an important part of the sport and can change the outcome of a game. A team with a good power play is hard to beat as is a team with a good penalty kill.

And if a team has both, watch out. Throughout the NHL’s history, there have been several teams and individuals that have excelled at either the power play or penalty kill.

The team with the best power play success rate of all time was the 1977-78 Montreal Canadians who converted on 31.9% of their power plays—an unheard-of rate in today’s game. To put that number in context, today the best NHL success rate usually hovers around 21%.

On the other side of the puck, the 2011-12 New Jersey Devils have the highest penalty-kill success rate of any team ever at 89.6%. As for individual records, Dave Andreychuk has the most career power play goals in NHL history with 274.

Andreychuk amassed his record power play goals while playing for six different NHL teams including the Buffalo Sabres, Boston Bruins, and Tampa Bay Lightning.

Not surprisingly, Wayne Gretzky holds the record for most shorthanded goals of all time. Over his career, the great one recorded 73 shorthanded goals.

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Steven G.

My name is Steven and I love everything sports! I created this website to share my passion with all of you. Enjoy!

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