Calgary Flames

How the Calgary Flames can use five forwards on the power play

After a slow start to the season, the Calgary Flames’ power play has been better of late, scoring on four of their past ten attempts.

That 40% rate is impressive, and the team shouldn’t mess around with what’s working. But, if a slump does hit in the future, the team has options to create a spark with the man advantage. Earlier in the week, I outlined which defensemen could quarterback the power play this season, a position long held by Mark Giordano. While I still think Oliver Kylington would make a great addition to the top power play (and he even saw some minutes there against Pittsburgh last night), here’s another option: the five forward power play.

Very uncommon in the NHL today, the concept is not without merits, and the construction of the Flames roster makes them a prime candidate to test it out this season. In the past, it’s been used by the Florida Panthers when Keith Yandle, their usual blueliner on the top power play at the time, was injured.

The idea didn’t catch on then, and seeing five forwards on the power play is still a novelty today. But, change in the NHL takes time, and it was not long ago the four forward power play was the same way. Just because no one else is doing it, doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.

A five forward power play makes sense for Calgary

The Flames lack offensively dynamic defensemen, and if the power play does struggle throughout the season, it could make sense to choose a more dangerous forward instead of a defenseman on the power play. Adding the fifth forward would make the team more vulnerable to shorthanded chances against, but with so many forwards known for being defensively responsible on the roster, like Elias Lindholm, Andrew Mangiapane, and Mikael Backlund, the risk can be mitigated.

Not only that, but adding another forward to the top power play would likely elevate Mangiapane to the top unit, giving more ice time to one of the team’s best goal scorers. Any time you can make an adjustment to give your best goal scorers more power play time, you should do it.

An added benefit would be the ability to slide a defenseman down to the second unit. The five-forward top unit essentially guarantees a defenseman will be needed on the second unit, as the team’s depth forwards are largely defense-first types. With the already mentioned lack of dynamic offensive defensemen on the team, this means the second unit will have the best available defensemen for the job, and that’d be Kylington.

Organizing the lines

So far, the Flames’ two power play groups have been clearly divided, with Sean Monahan, Lindholm, Johnny Gaudreau, and Matthew Tkachuk the forwards for the top unit, and Mangiapane, Backlund, Milan Lucic, and Dillon Dube on the second. With Mangiapane’s excellent to start the season, it makes sense to reward him with time on the top unit.

Monahan has struggled to produce on the power play over the last few seasons, and Mangiapane could be more dangerous from his position in the slot. This would slide Monahan into Lindholm’s position on the right side, and Lindholm into the role of point man, replacing the departing defenseman.

With Lindholm at the point and Mangiapane in front, the unit becomes much more threatening. Although he may bounce back now that he’s healthy, Monahan has only twelve power play goals over the last two seasons. Mangiapane could find more success in the same position if given the opportunity. Lindholm, meanwhile, has the power to threaten from the point and the accuracy to thread shots through traffic, and is a stronger playmaker than any of the defensemen the team could slot into the point position instead.

In terms of goal scoring, over the past three seasons Mangiapane has seen a 6.83 goals per sixty minutes of ice time, a rate higher than any of the defensemen who have seen power play time in that span not named Mark Giordano. Given the opportunity to play with the team’s best playmakers, that number could be even higher.

That line could be given the majority of the power play time, with a second unit including Dube, Backlund, Coleman, Lucic, and Kylington. Not as threatening as the first unit, this second unit would see less ice, but still has the potential to score some goals. This weaker second unit is undoubtedly the negative tradeoff of the five-forward top unit, however, and may be a problem if this strategy is ever tried.

All-offense unit an option worth considering

If the power play continues to perform, there’s no reason to make this change. It’s generally bad practice to change the parts of your game that are working, and adding a forward sacrifices defense at a time when teams are especially vulnerable to surrendering odd-man rushes. But in a time of need, a five forward unit could be a great tool for a team like the Flames. They’re a prime candidate to make this strategy work given their roster composition.

Some power play tinkering throughout the season is inevitable, and this lineup is worth trying out. Although the power play has been better recently than at the start of the season, the sample size is still too small to really cast a judgement. If the Flames do hit a dip in production on the man-advantage, deploying five forwards could be just the recipe they need to turn things around.

Photo by Gerry Thomas/Getty Images

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