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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Tocchin' About the Pens' Power Play by @ChicksDigHockey

Rick Tocchet was the kind of player you noticed on the ice. He started his hockey career renowned as a fighter but evolved into a respected power forward. He knew how to use his hands for something other than pugilism. When he retired after 2001–02 season, he joined an elite group of NHL players who collected 400 goals and 2,000 penalty minutes, including Brendan Shanahan and Gary Roberts. 

He played for six teams over an 18-year NHL career, beginning and ending with the Flyers. His numbers jump out at you: 1,144 games, 440 goals, 952 points, 2,972 penalty minutes. He hoisted the Stanley Cup while a Penguin in 1992
Really, as a player, he was the perfect blend of toughness and skill.

His coaching days have been filled with ups and downs. He started his coaching career as an assistant coach for the Colorado Avalanche in 2002–03. After that he was an assistant and briefly interim head coach in Phoenix . He moved on to Tampa Bay in 2008 as an associate coach and went on to replace Berry Melrose as head coach. He remained with Tampa until 2010 when he was relieved of his coaching duties by the new ownership. 

After Tampa, Tocchet returned to Pittsburgh where he had maintained a friendship with Mario Lemieux. Tocchet wanted to be back in coaching but held out for what he called “a very premier job” with the Pens.

On June 25, 2014 Rick Tocchet was hired by the Pittsburgh Penguins to be an assistant coach.

New Head Coach Mike Johnston didn’t pick Tocchet to be his assistant, management did. The message that sent was clear; they wanted a toughness they felt they had been lacking and knew a specific man who could bring it. 

After he was hired, Tocchet told The Trib’s Josh Yohe; "I know I can help them," he said. "I'm very confident in that. I look forward to that player interaction. I've got the experience to handle it. I've worn different hats on different teams. I've been a first-liner and a fourth-liner. I've had different coaches. I've played in Game 7s."

Tocchet has been tasked with being the teams power play architect. 

The Pens had the NHL’s number one power play in 2013-14 but you wouldn’t have known that if all you  saw was their second-round playoff loss to the New York Rangers, when they scored on just one of 20 chances.

What’s different about Tocchet’s power play?

Not as much as you might think. 

Tocchet likes Malkin and Crosby on the half wall. He likes Kunitz in front of the net. He wants the quarterback, Letang to shoot more. Sound familiar?

He likes structure. Tocchet favors a 1-3-1 formation, with a right-handed shot in the middle.  He likes to have two productive units not a top one and one that sort of mops up. He wants his power play to make a positive difference when the stakes are highest; in the playoffs.

When asked about his power play philosophy he said, "I don't believe power plays should have eight or nine plays," he said. "To me, it's three or four options, and be the best at those options. Practice the heck out of them and once a team over-commits ... it's attack, attack, attack."

It's a philosophy that has been very successful thus far; The Penguins and Rick Tocchet currently have the league’s number one power play scoring at a blistering 37.5 percent. They’ve scored 15 more goals with the extra man than their opponents in 13 games. They’re scoring on 23 percent of their power play shots. The top unit of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Patric Hornqvist, Chris Kunitz, and Kris Letang all currently rank in the top ten for power play points. It seems Tocchet has come full circle helping to create nightmares for opposing teams once again. 

Not all NHL players can make the transition from player to coach. It's one thing to play the game with skill and toughness. It's another thing to direct the league's top players to play according to your vision and be successful at it. They call those who coach the power play "architects" because it requires detailed planning and meticulous design to build a successful, productive unit. As opposing penalty kill units will tell you, Rick Tocchet is as adept with a T-square as he was with a hockey stick.

Power Play Goal Differential details the difference in the number of goals a team scores on the power play and the number of goals they allow to opponents on penalty kills.

The top power play unit makes up half of the top 10
All charts

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