Today on The Whiteboard we’ll look at the rotation teams use to kill off a 5-on-3 powerplay. The rotation is very simple on paper, but obviously gets a little harder on the ice. That whole “having less guys” thing means you have to do everything perfectly to get a stop.

For starters, let’s take a look at the most common offensive 5-on-3 formation teams use on the two-man advantage. This is where everyone starts:

The offense has skated in and set up, which is insanely easy to do on a 5-on-3. With the right d-man having the puck, the forward fronts the shot and stays in the shooting lane. Now, the rotation.

If the puck goes D-to-D across the top, the forward drops down, the defenseman on the (new) puck side moves up to front the shot, and the other defenseman slides over to take the open spot. Because the forward slides down to play the role of a defenseman, it’s not uncommon to see coaches use three d-men when killing a 5-on-3. So, pretty simple so far:

Now, when a defenseman drags the puck to the middle or all the way across the top (a common play to cause confusion – usually his partner will go behind him in a switch and load up for a shot), that defensive d-man will continue to front him all the way across, and not much changes. (The low d-man has to be ready to come out and block the shot if they do execute a one-timer, so he may cheat up a little more than what I’ve shown.)

Now let’s say he moves the puck low…

The low guy on the puck side has one job: that pass across to the backdoor CANNOT happen. Seriously, that “F” in our case should just lie down. With that pass being his job, that means the pass to the slot is the job of the weak-side d-man. The d-man who’s high here keeps a stick in the passing lane to the slot, but stands in the shooting lane of the defenseman he was previously fronting in case of a one-timer.

Obviously the d-man in the slot is aware of the danger of a backdoor pass, as is the goalie, so it’s not entirely on the one dude…but most of it is.

The majority of a powerplay from the offensive side is just trying to get those three guys moving, and trying to catch someone out of position. If not, there’s always someone to pass to – you do have extra humans and all.

By passing it back-and-forth up top, you make the guys on the outside of the pulley go up-and-back, up-and-back, and the d-man down low go over-and-back, over-and-back, and it’s usually somewhere during their transition where you can make a few one-touch passes like high-to-low-to-the-slot, or high-to-low-to-backdoor. As the killers get more tired, obviously there are more openings, and you’re basically stationary, so you feel pretty fresh.

If you can keep things nice and tight with good sticks in the passing lanes, killing a 5-on-3 isn’t an impossibility.

But when things start to break down – maybe a guy losses a puck battle in the corner, or someone blows a clearing attempt – an NHL team on offense will cash in every time.