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Having One Defenseman on the Power Play Isn’t a Big Deal, Okay?

After nearly a decade, it’s time I get this off my chest.

Dallas Stars v New York Islanders
No really, this is not a new or novel thing. At all.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

When Doug Weight joined the New York Islanders as a player, during bad times I would occasionally witness some version of this complaint about the power play:

What the hell is he doing back there, they need another defenseman at the point.

For a major portion of Frans Nielsen’s post-Scott Gordon career with the Isles, I heard it as well.

Never mind that Nielsen was often the best and sometimes only Islander who could reliably gain the zone -- kind of a big deal — on the power play, people would still act like if it’s not Denis Potvin laying heavy shots from the point, it doesn’t work.

For much of last season, when Nick Leddy was the lone point man even after Nielsen had left for the Red Wings, I heard it again.

I heard it again this week when Mathew Barzal was victimized a bit during a preseason game.

But defense is not the primary function of the power play. Moving the puck, generating shots, and increasing the odds of a goal-for is.

So yes, it stinks when a non-defenseman is victimized at the point on the power play. And yes, it is reassuring to have a Ryan Pulock-style cannon creating a threat from the point. But just because a team isn’t carrying the traditional 5-on-5 format into 5-on-4, doesn’t mean the alternative they’ve chosen is fundamentally flawed.

I follow two teams closely — the Blues are my other object of desire, an easy pursuit since I don’t give a damn about football or basketball or college anything — which makes it easy to spot fan complaints where they think their team is the only one stupid enough to do X when in reality it’s more common than they think.

The one-defenseman power play is one of those things. So when I read #27 in Elliotte Friedman’s 31 Thoughts this week, I chuckled:

27. If the pre-season is proof of anything, it is that the three-forward, two-defenceman first-unit power play is going the way of Ramsay Bolton. Nashville still does it, Anaheim too. I’ve seen Montreal do both. Chicago is changing. It’s quite the evolution.

And it’s been happening for years, friends.