Power Play Details With Matt Lorito

How an AHL All-Star thinks the game

Today I am again co-writing a post with a newsletter reader/Hockey Tactics 2020 buyer.

Meet Matt Lorito: a former captain of the Brown University NCAA D1 team, a two-time AHL All-Star, an NHLer with the Detroit Red Wings and most recently a left winger for the Toronto Marlies.

(Photo: Detroit Red Wings)

Despite being listed at 5’9”, 172lb, the 29-year-old has established himself as an offensive threat in the second-toughest league in North America by virtue of his hockey IQ.

His strengths as a player are especially visible on the man advantage. After being a key contributor on one of the most uniquely productive PP units in recent memory with the Grand Rapids Griffins, Lorito was miscast on the Bridgeport Sound Tigers’ second unit before our paths crossed on the Toronto Marlies.

I had Matt break down an especially productive night on the power play in his Bridgeport stint. The clarity of his thought process is instructive to players, coaches analysts and fans alike.

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Clip 1

On February 22, 2020, Matt and the Sound Tigers face the Hershey Bears. Early in the game, BRI’s first power play unit fails to make an impression and Matt’s second unit starts with a DZ faceoff.

No. 25 Mason Jobst gets his teammates out of the bind with a clean win. No. 27 Parker Wotherspoon, the second unit quarterback, sets up a double drop PP breakout with No. 15 Simon Holmstrom and No. 14 Lorito in tow.

From Matt:

When running a double drop breakout vs a 1-3 PK forecheck, you want to see the guy who brings the puck up the ice be able to lure the first forechecker to one side of the ice before making the drop pass. This makes life a lot easier for the drop pass receivers as they simply have to read where the F1 is not and pick the less covered side. The theory of the double drop is to be able to create a 2-1 situation at the blue line against a defender standing still to create a clean entry. 

When you are opposite the puck carry on the drop, you want to be even with him so that you’re an option for him to pass to. On this particular breakout, I read F1 was in a great spot to angle 15 if he kept the puck so I decided to get ahead of him so that if 15 moved it to me I would be by F1 and have better access to the dot line on entry.

Side note: I can understand 15’s decision to keep and carry the puck as he might have thought 27 would set a little pick on F1 for him but 27 stops skating and allows F1 to take a great angle on 15.

The rookie Holmstrom has a tough play to make at the line, with all four PKers still in the play. He is not able to finish his route deep into the OZ due to the defensive pressure and kicks the puck to the left wall. Jobst, the intended receiver, is immediately pinned by his man. He does well to win the puck to Wotherspoon, but three PKers are pressuring and Hershey clears.

I’m obviously a little annoyed that we do not get in the zone but you have to forget it and reset. You instantly start thinking about what went wrong and how it should be executed the next time around.

On the way back to our end you want to look to see if anyone on their team is changing , and then you want to see if they’re setting up in the same forecheck. Most of the time teams will stay in the same structure because it just worked but personally I think it would be harder on the PP guys if they mixed it up.

Wortherspoon winds up and makes a better drop the second time around, this time to Lorito. Matt gets an earlier commitment from F1, which allows him to make an earlier kick-out to No. 13 Colin McDonald on the right flank. He drives aggressively to the bottom of the OZ, taking two PKers with him.

Coach Todd Nelson in Grand Rapids was a big proponent of “finishing your route.” The guy who receives the kick out, in this case 13, has to drive his feet down the wall as far he can before kicking it back to the top. This gives the point man time to get to his spot on the blue line.

With the entry and set-up done, the Sound Tigers get into their OZ set and move the puck flawlessly. McDonald pulls the entire PK down low, then reverses to Wotherspoon at the point. On his first touch he sends the puck over to Jobst, who rolls downhill, drags the puck around an onrushing PKer and wrists it at the net.

Meanwhile Lorito is already on the move toward the back post. He sniffs out an opportunity to be the third man at the net and arrives just in time to backhand a rebound in. 1-0 Bridgeport.

Anytime there is a shot from the opposite flank you want to converge to the net. I've scored a lot of power play goals off rebounds that squirt out to that backdoor spot.

The most important aspect is timing. I've always thought that it is better to be a bit late than too early because it is easier to react and accelerate into a loose puck than have one go by you because you were too close to the net.

It’s hard to tell on the video but the original rebound is heading into the slot before bouncing off of their defender and trickling to the back post. If I’m there too early I might react to the original rebound and may not have time to react to the second bounce. Sometimes you have to let things come to you.

Clip 2

Later in the opening period, Lorito’s unit starts the power play - reward for a job well done on their last rep. Jobst wins the draw for Wotherspoon, who sends cross-ice for Lorito.

As soon as we win the draw, I notice the weak side forward started to cheat towards me. A lot of teams like to do this to try and keep the puck out of my hands or to prevent a one-time option off the draw. It’s something I expect.

I fade as close as I can to the boards and send it back across the ice to the other flank as soon as I get it without dusting it off. You have to know where your outs are before you get the puck.

Lorito correctly identifies the aggressive Hershey pressure and finds a “Zorro” seam pass against the grain to Jobst. Holmstrom attacks the near post from under the goal line while Lorito hunts for an opening on the back post as he did earlier. The pass comes but glances off a stick and out of the zone.

Lorito has Wotherspoon’s confidence on the drop. He throws a head fake to the far side to send the PK that way, then comes back to McDonald for a clean entry.

Deception is critical on entry. A lot of people talk about coming building speed on the double drop breakout. Yes, it's important to have speed but I believe deception is even more important. You have to be able to manipulate the PK forecheck and move them where you want to give your unit the easiest entry. The way to do that is to give them false information of where you or the puck is going.

I learned from Darryl Belfry that the best players are proactive rather than reactive. You make them react to your initial move (deception) and then go where you want to go.

You can see F1 and the three defenders stacked on the blue line start to drift slightly to the right as I look to pass to that side. I have no intention of passing to anyone over there but just by looking over there I’m able to make them move slightly away from the side I want to enter on for another clean entry.

Wotherspoon wins a battle and makes a brave cross-ice pass to Jobst, just outside the reach of a Hershey forward. Jobst throws the puck at McDonald, who is unguarded in front of the net due to Hershey’s aggressiveness. McDonald barely misses scoring but the rebound comes to Lorito, who beats two Bears and sends the puck to safety up top.

Then the Sound Tigers run a set play: Point to bumper to right flank to collapse the PK tightly into the slot, then right flank to right goal line back to the bumper for a quick shot. McDonald gets his second Grade-A chance

On the first play I try to relieve pressure by getting the puck back to the top to reset. 27 makes a good read seeing that their weak side forward is cheating to the flank again and 13 happens to be wide open in the bumper spot. I know as soon as I get it back that we are set up for the bang-bang play (goal line to bumper).

We execute and their goalie makes a nice save.

Clip 3

Wotherspoon drops for Holmstrom, who builds speed and knifes through the Hershey line. With no obvious plays to the net, the winger changes sides and rims to McDonald at the right point.

Once again Hershey is very active, and once again Bridgeport has to move the puck quickly.

I know I would be under pressure after receiving the pass from 13.

My initial thought is to build space off the wall as I catch the pass to then be able to cut back down the wall.

The puck bounces and I’m not able to get off the wall. The defender gets into my hands preventing me from releasing the puck down low. It’s a borderline hooking penalty but you don’t usually get those calls when you’re already on a power play.

The puck leaves the OZ. But with one Hershey skater changing, Wotherspoon penetrates all the way to the red line on his next drop. All four PKers sag to respect Lorito’s speed and concede their blue line without a fight. He attacks the middle before kicking to McDonald and finishing his route. McDonald once again reverses to Wotherspoon as the OZ set materialises.

I like how we regroup quickly, allowing only one of their players to change.

We get a clean entry and 27 makes another good play to the bumper. You can see how valuable that guy in the middle is when teams cheat to the flanks. It’s also important for everyone to know all of the routes and positions on entries and in the zone. I remember (Islanders assistant coach) Jim Hiller saying, “possession over position” in training camp. Sometimes regroups happen quickly and you're back in the offensive zone but if you don't have proper support it's easier for the PK to pressure.

BRI goes point-bumper-right flank again. But Lorito sees something is amiss: the righty McDonald is on the goal line while left-handed Holmstrom is the bumper, precluding the quick set play they ran in the previous clip. So Lorito holds for an extra second, sucks in two overenthusiastic PKers and tees it up for Wotherspoon at the point. Holmstrom flashes across the goalie’s eyes. An unguarded McDonald is on the back post for an easy deflection goal, capping off a great night for Lorito’s unit.

Coming soon: Matt and I discuss the five-forward power play, which we ran with our respective teams to devastating effect in 2016-17.

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