The most important part of any powerplay is getting set up in the offensive zone. It’s also the most difficult part.

Once you’ve established solid possession there and have everybody in position, things just get fun. But prior to that, it takes tape-to-tape passes, good decisions, and hard work.

Obviously there are many variations to the powerplay breakout (the most common of which these days is to drop your best skill guy the puck at your own blueline and let him set things up on his own), but every team has one look that’s exactly the same: Old Faithful.

The diagram is below, but first, a quick explanation:

1) A defenseman, D1, goes back on the puck and sets it up behind the net.

2) He waits for the centerman and D2 to get back in the zone, swing low beneath the circles (which side is determined by which hand they are – you want to be taking passes on your forehand), and come up the ice together. The “together” part is important.

3) F2 comes back to his team’s blue line, and waits for that d-man to either A) step out from behind the net, or B) pass the puck to the centerman or D2. Then, he cuts across the blueline, going beneath it, then coming up.

4) F3 comes back to almost center (on the opposite side from F2), waits for the d-man to step out with the puck, then skates back behind the opposing D. He can get a breakaway pass if he’s open (unlikely), but his job is usually just to force the D back to watch him, which takes bodies out of the neutral zone and creates room.

Let’s look at it:

Penalty kills are all about forcing the puck to one side of the ice, and putting pressure on the puck before the red line. Knowing this, the ideal breakout is executed like so:

1) D1 steps out from behind the net, and passes the puck to the wall. In this example, we’ll say to D2. D2 draws the first forechecker, and the other one starts to cheat to that side of the ice. D2 then makes the pass across the ice to the centerman, who now has a full head of steam, open-ice, and the puck (if that lane is clogged, he can run it back to D1, who can in turn run it up to the C).

2) As the PK corrects and prepares to pressure the centerman, F2 is across the ice for support – he can get a pass in the middle, retrieve a soft chip, or be first in on a soft dump-in.

3) F3 continues along his path to the far boards in case the centerman decides that a hard-wrap is the best dump-in to get them set-up. That decision will often be made depending on which side of the ice the PP unit likes to set up on. If it’s a hard wrap, F2 uses his momentum to carry on over to help F3, making sure he has options. It initially looks like this:

So the options after the centerman gets the puck are:

1) Direct pass

2) Soft chip

3) Soft dump-in

4) Hard wrap

For when the D over-commits on the puck carrier, here’s #1:

Simple. You’re just trying to catch the PK d-man outside the dots, and score on the rush.

When F2 is flying and should be able to get in behind the D, #2.  F3′s route gives him the ideal place to move the puck if F2 gets to the chip cleanly – he can get his team set-up on either side of the ice from there:

When you need a few more steps to get F2 the puck and want to get set up low, #3.  Again, F3 is providing low support:

And when you want to set up on the other side of the ice, or the PK unit is over-correcting to the puck, #4.  You’d like your first support option to be lower in the zone, hence F2′s route:

In all cases, the center will provide support where necessary after moving it, whether that means high strong side, on the wall, or wherever.

The point is all about support – support, support, support.

Taking it from the top: if D1 passes it to D2, and D2 skates it the rest of the way, he has F3 the same way the centerman had F2 on his side for chips and dumps.

If the d-man brings the puck out and straight carries it, he has options galore.

The trick is that the centerman and D2 can’t get too far ahead of the d-man, and the high wingers can’t get too excited and leave too soon. It’s all about timing.