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Commentary: Merrimack’s Power Play Will Be Alright

Through four games, the conversion rate isn’t great, but there’s reason to believe the PP will be much improved …

Sami Tavernier (Photo: Merrimack Athletics)

Through four games, Merrimack’s power play is converting on just 6.5 percent of its chances. That’s an obviously low number but with just 16 power-play attempts, it’s also an incredibly small sample size.

Good teams — really good teams — are struggling with their power play early in the season. The power play is something coaches often say takes time to develop. Wisconsin, a top-10 team and Merrimack’s opponent this past weekend, is in the bottom tier nationally when it comes to their power play. Minnesota, North Dakota, Western Michigan and Minnesota Duluth are all teams who are in the bottom half, nationally, in power-play percentage.

But again, most teams are only three or four games into their seasons. The sample size is small.

Merrimack’s power play, over the long haul, will be fine. The biggest reason I suggest that is due to the number of shots generated. Of teams who have had at least 10 power-play chances this season, the Warriors are second in the country with 4.0 shots generated per man advantage (SEE CHART BELOW). Overall, the Warriors are third in the nation in shots per power-play chance.

Right now, Merrimack is generating more shots per power play than every team in the country with the exception of Denver and Mercyhurst. Denver, the defending national champions, are on another level and you could argue that Mercyhurst’s 0.17 edge over the Warriors is due in large part to strength of schedule.

Here’s the other thing: Merrimack is getting shots through on the power play at a better rate that I expected. Only 25 percent of Merrimack’s 64 shot attempts on the power play have been blocked. Teams generally block more shots when they’re on the penalty kill, where systemically teams usually pack in tight between the circles. At even strength, 23.7 percent of Merrimack’s offensive shot attempts have been blocked, meaning that the block rate for opponents only goes up by 1.3 percent on the power play, when teams are typically trying to block more shots, especially shots that come from the outside, and are also typically in better position to block those shots.

Another piece of data that tells us the Warriors are taking better quality shot attempts is that more than half of their shot attempts on the power play (34) have come from the forwards, who are typically set up lower in the zone and closer to high-percentage scoring areas on the ice.

Merrimack had 26.5 percent of its power-play shot attempts blocked last season, but as we pointed out, the Warriors were attempting 1.25 less shots per power play.

Let’s look at some more comparisons to last season, when the struggles for the Warriors on the power play was a hot topic through December. Early in the season, the unit struggled, but in the second half of the year the Warriors were converting at slightly more than 20 percent rate. In total last season, Merrimack generated 2.75 shots per power-play chance, and that includes a big chunk later in the year when the unit was clicking on a better than 1-in-5 average. The Warriors are averaging 1.25 more shots per power-play attempt thus far in 2017.

To really boil it down, the Warriors are attempting more shots on the power play, and seeing less of them blocked. That’s a positive in two directions.

When people analyze a team’s power-play unit, it’s typically a results-oriented analysis. That’s fair. But this early in the season the results don’t always give an accurate insight to a unit’s performance. Good teams generally get at least one power-play goal per game. For Merrimack, that’s a huge point. That one goal can get the Warriors above the 3.0 per game threshold that seems to be the “magic number.” If the Warriors keep generating so many shots on the power play, they’ll be there.

PP Chances PP Shot Attempts Attempts/PP
Denver 4 20 5.00
Mercyhurst 12 50 4.17
Merrimack 16 64 4.00
Union 22 84 3.82
Colorado College 28 104 3.71
UConn 18 65 3.61
Holy Cross 6 20 3.33
Boston University 19 63 3.32
Arizona State 22 72 3.27
Minnesota Duluth 18 58 3.22
Northern Michigan 15 47 3.13
St. Cloud State 11 34 3.09
Boston College 8 24 3.00
Canisius 14 42 3.00
Northeastern 19 55 2.89
Notre Dame 13 36 2.77
Niagara 8 22 2.75
Colgate 25 67 2.68
Minnesota State 9 24 2.67
Providence 9 24 2.67
Bowling Green 16 42 2.63
Robert Morris 24 63 2.63
Quinnipiac 8 21 2.63
Ferris State 21 55 2.62
Massachusetts 18 46 2.56
UMass Lowell 20 51 2.55
Bentley 8 20 2.50
Rensselaer 8 20 2.50
Alabama Huntsville 10 25 2.50
Alaska 21 52 2.48
Maine 9 22 2.44
North Dakota 21 51 2.43
Miami 14 34 2.43
Air Force 17 41 2.41
St. Lawrence 17 41 2.41
American International 22 53 2.41
Ohio State 20 48 2.40
Western Michigan 37 85 2.30
Lake Superior State 16 36 2.25
Michigan State 9 20 2.22
Army West Point 9 20 2.22
New Hampshire 15 33 2.20
Penn State 16 35 2.19
Wisconsin 16 35 2.19
Alaska Anchorage 19 41 2.16
Minnesota 20 43 2.15
Vermont 16 34 2.13
Michigan 13 27 2.08
RIT 4 8 2.00
Clarkson 18 36 2.00
Omaha 10 18 1.80
Michigan Tech 21 37 1.76
Bemidji State 8 12 1.50
Sacred Heart 11 13 1.18

Mike McMahon is in his 12th year covering Merrimack College for The Eagle Tribune and is the founder and managing editor of The Mack Report. Mike also serves on staff as a senior writer at College Hockey News. Follow him on Twitter @MikeMcMahonCHN

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