What Is Power Play In Ice Hockey?

What Is A Power Play In Ice Hockey?

If you are familiar with ice hockey, you will agree with me that an intriguing part of the game is when power play is in motion. But if you are not, this might be a foreign term, and you might not now know when it occurs during a game. 

If you have watched an ice hockey game, you will notice that there are moments when a team has more players than its opponent. If new to the sport, you’ll be confused as to why the game looked uneven. Well, what is happening at that moment is known as “Power Play”. 

In this article, we will look at the meaning of power play, how it occurs, its terms, rules and more. We’ll also cover some of the strategies teams use during power play. Let’s begin. 

What Is A Power Play?

Power Play in ice hockey occurs when a team has more players on the ice than its opposing team because at least one of the opposing team’s players is serving penalty time in the penalty box.

Typically, ice hockey games consist of 2 teams of six players (one goaltender and five skaters). However, if a team has fewer than the standard five skaters on the ice because either one or more players are serving penalty time for their infractions, then the team with more players is said to be on power play.

Imagine a situation when a player on a team is given a penalty (let’s say a 2-minute penalty) and has to go to the penalty box. His team has one less player when he serves the penalty time. Therefore, instead of an even 5-on-5 game, it becomes a 5-on-4 match. 

In some cases, more than one player on a team is made to serve the infraction time and the game could shift drastically to a 5-on-3 game. The advantage of a team with more players over a team with fewer players is called a man advantage

In addition, if two players on different teams are given a penalty simultaneously, then the game is even. Why? This is because both teams each have a player serving penalty time, and the player count reduces to 4-on-4. 

Power plays can occur in the following format: 5-on-4, 5-on-3 and 4-on-3. However, ice hockey teams must have at least three players on the ice (exempting goalies). If a team has two players in the penalty box and a third player is assessed a penalty, the offending player will not serve his penalty time until one of the players serves his infraction time.

Power Play Terms

Power Play Terms

Before going on in this article, we will be looking at some terms that will occur throughout the article. These terms are common when talking about power play in ice hockey. 


The team with the man advantage on the ice is on power play. However, the team with fewer players is to be shorthanded. 

Penalty Kill 

A Penalty kill is when a shorthanded team goes mainly on the defence and does everything in its power to stop the opposing team from scoring a power play goal. 

This is because once a team is on power play, their main objective becomes to capitalize on the man advantage they have to score. In contrast, the shorthanded team change their gameplay to ensure a goal is not scored. 


A Power Play Goal is an element visible on a player’s stats. PPG is the number of goals scored while a team was on power play. It shows how well a player can capitalize on the man advantage his team has. Power play goals are very common because the team has more players to carry out fierce offensive attacks.


Shorthanded Goals are also part of a player’s stats. However, unlike PPG, SHG refers to the number of goals scored when a team is shorthanded. SHG are not very common but they do occur during penalty kill.

If you want to know what the various stats in ice hockey mean, you can readUnderstanding Ice Hockey Stats: Players & Teams“.

Rules Of Power Play

The following are some of the rules of power play in ice hockey. 

  • A player who commits a penalty is sent to the penalty box. This then gives the opposing team a power play
  • Offending players will be held in the penalty box until the end of their infraction time
  • Players with a minor penalty spend 2 minutes, while those with a major penalty spend 5 minutes. Note that a player can also be given a double minor penalty. The player will spend four minutes in the penalty box in cases like this. 
  • Players assessed with a two-minute minor penalty will be allowed to leave the box before the end of the infraction time if the opposing team scores (i.e. the team on power play). However, this rule does not apply to major penalties. 
  • However, if a SHG is scored, the penalty clock continues, and the offending player is not allowed to leave the penalty box. 
  • When two players from a team are in the penalty box,  a third player will not be sent to the penalty box until the penalty time for one of the two players expires.  
  • Shorthanded teams can not be called for icing. 

How Long Does A Power Play Last

Power plays last as long as a team has more players than its opposing team. Once the game evens out (both teams have the same number of players), the power play ends. However, this depends on the type of penalty given and the infraction time.

Can A Power Play Occur In Overtime

Power plays can occur at any part of the game, including over. However, the overtime rules in leagues like the NHL changes the overtime rules a bit. 

Since the 2015-16 season, the NHL adopted a new overtime rule that affected the number of players on the ice. In the NHL, the game drops from a 5-on-5 game (regular rule) to a 3-on-3 game (overtime rule). 

Now, if power plays occur in overtime, how does this rule change? 

Since ice hockey mandates that a team can not have less than three skaters on the ice, a change is made to power play rule in OT. Instead of the offending player’s team sending a player to the penalty box, a player is added to the players of their opponent’s team

This means if a player commits a penalty in overtime, a player will be added to the team of their opposing team for the duration of the penalty. This means it will become a 4-on-3 or even 5-on-3 game for their opponent. This makes the offending player’s team shorthanded and their opponent on power play. 

NHL Team With Highest Power Play Percentage (2021-22)

When reading the stats of NHL teams, you can easily find the power play percentage (PP%) of NHL teams. Power play percentage shows the likeliness of a team scoring a goal during a power play. It is derived by finding the percentage of power-play goals to the total number of power plays

The table below shows the highest-ranking teams with the best PP% during the 2021-22 season. 

Team Power Play Percentage (PP%)
Toronto Maple Leafs27.3
St. Louis Blues27.0
Edmonton Oilers26.0
New York Rangers25.2
Florida Panthers24.4
Nashville Predators24.4
Colorado Avalanche24.0
Tampa Bay Lightning 23.9
Vancouver Canucks23.5
Calgary Flames22.9
Data from statmuse.com

Strategies Of Power Play

Power Play Strategies

Teams on power play have strategies they employ to ensure that they make the most of the man-advantage they enjoy. This article will briefly explain these strategies so you can recognize them on the ice when you see them. 


The 1-3-1 is actually a formation that is made by teams on power play to create quick-shot opportunities. So how do you recognise it? 

In this strategy, one play at the top, close to the blue neutral zone, three players down the middle and one at the bottom in front of the goalie. The player close to the blue line is mostly a defenseman who will pass the puck around to the other players. 

The three players down the middle are between the player at the top and the player in front of the goalie’s net. Two players take a left and right-wing each,  while the third stays in the middle. Since they are positioned in the offence zone, any of these players can score from their positions

Finally, the player is in front of the goalie’s net. His job is to wait for an opening pass that he can capitalize on; either he takes a shot when he receives a pass or deflects shots into the net. This is why 1-3-1 is a very effective strategy, as it gives the goalies too much to handle. 

The 1-3-1 strategy creates a lot of possible openings for passes and goals as it is a strong attack strategy. However, it leaves a team open to the offence as the team’s defensive zone is open with no defence. 


The Umbrella strategy keeps three players near the blue line of the offensive zone and two players near the opponent’s net on each side. The three players near the blue line create shots and give passes, while the remaining two players below are responsible for scoring and deflection. 


Overload is another strategy that disrupts the effectiveness of the opposing team’s defences. During overload, the team on power play cycles the puck in the corners until there is a breakdown in the opposing team’s defence. When this happens, the power play team takes advantage and goes for a goal.


Power plays are fun to watch in ice hockey, and when it is taken advantage of, a team can change the game’s outcome. So far, we have looked at the definition of power play, its terms and even NHL teams with the highest power play percentage.

I hope you leant something new today. Thanks for reading, and have a great day.

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