What Is a Power Play in Ice Hockey?

Posted on June 4, 2019 by Dan Kent
power play

Ever heard the phrase power-play in hockey and wondered what exactly does that mean? and how does it happen? Let’s lay it out in plain English.

A power play is when one team has more players on the ice than the other team. This happens when a penalty is called and a player is sent off for an infraction – which means they’re excluded from the game for either two minutes or five minutes. The team on a power play has more players on the ice while the defending team is ‘shorthanded’ with fewer active players.

During a powerplay, the team with more players usually has more control of the puck and the ice. They have less opposing players to deal with which gives them more space and a higher chance of shooting on net and scoring.

2 min Vs 5 min power play?

The length of the power play is determined by how long a player was sent off the ice for. Minor infractions are two-minutes while more serious or major infractions are five minutes. If two players are sent off consecutively then the power play ends when the last penalty ends.

When does the power play end?

The player that is under a penalty must stay inside the penalty box until the duration of the penalty has expired. Once the penalty is over they can re-join the game and step back on the ice. At this time if both teams are back to full strength with five players then power play is over.

The power play on a minor penalty (two minutes) will end early if the team with more skates on the ice scores.

Power Play Goals

When a team with more players on the ice scores a goal it is known as a power play goal. Many goals are scored in power play situations as the team is able to keep possession of the puck and have more scoring chances.

Shorthanded Goals

Sometimes the team with fewer players on the ice known as the short-handed team will score a goal. This is less common and less likely but does occur. 

NHL: Short-Handed Goals

When a short-handed team enter a power play their position is known as penalty kill. They must wait down the clock and defend their net to kill the penalty. 

In some cases, a player will commit an infraction on purpose as a way to mitigate a scoring opportunity. Taking a penalty is preferable to being scored against. Hockey commentators often call this type of penalty a ‘good penalty’. 

Power Play Tactics

When a team is on a power play they’ll often play a number of rehearsed set pieces to maximize their scoring chances. Examples of power play tactics include 1-2-2, 11-3-3, the Spread and so on (source).   The goal of which is to:

  • Get the puck into the right scoring position.
  • Setting up tactical moves to outpace the opponents.
  • Creating more shot opportunities 
  • Being in position to score on rebounds or missed shots.
  • To dominate and outmaneuver the shorthanded team.

Shorthanded Tactics

The team that is shorthanded is fewer men on the ice and so their main task is to play a more defensive game and stop the opposing team for having scoring chances. 

They will position closer to their net to defend it with fewer players and will only break towards the opposing net if there is a clear way forward.

In most cases, the pressure of the opposing team will force them to fire the puck out of their zone and across the ice as far as possible. 

The shorthanded team has one thing to their advantage during this situation, they are allowed to ice the puck. That is to shoot it across the center line and the opposite goal line without it being touched (in normal play this would be an icing infraction resulting in a face-off). 

Dan Kent

About the author

Growing up in a hockey hotbed (Calgary, Alberta. And yes, I'm an Oiler fan), I decided to put my love and knowledge of the game to work. I started at five and am still playing today into my early 30s. By acquiring Brave Stick Hockey and rebranding it to Big Shot Hockey in 2023, I plan to teach people about this great game and educate them on the best equipment and history of the game. On a career level, I am in finance, running one of the largest financial websites in Canada, Stocktrades.ca.

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