What is a Power Play in Hockey?

Each of the five major professional sports played in North America assesses penalties differently. Football, basketball, ice hockey, baseball, and soccer all have specific ways of dealing with rules infractions. In each sport, these infractions are wide-ranging and can occur during play and sometimes before and after the action. Referees for each sport must know a long list of rules they must constantly monitor in the spirit of fair play. In most cases, baseball being the one outlier, a minor penalty or a major penalty can be assessed, depending on the severity of the incident. Sometimes the infraction is something a team does to the other team, or a member, and other times it’s a way of trying to take advantage outside of the rules of the game. When this happens in ice hockey, this results in a power play.


What is an ice hockey power play?

The ice hockey power play occurs when one team receives a penalty and the penalized team has to send a player to the penalty box and play short-handed for a minimum of two minutes, with longer time assessed for more severe infractions. If the offending team has a member assessed for a penalty they have to play with four players against the other team’s five players, known as a 5 on 4 power play. If a team has multiple players assessed penalties either at the same time or in separate incidents, they could have to play with three players resulting in a 5 on 3 power play for the other team.

Different power play lengths

As mentioned, there are different length power plays depending on whether a major or minor penalty was called by the officials. The penalized team may lose a player for a two-minute minor penalty, five-minute major penalty, or 10-minute game misconduct penalty. In order for it to be considered a power play, the power play team is skating with at least a one-man advantage. However, in some scenarios a team may have two players in the penalty box, leading to a 5-on-3 (two-man advantage) instead of a 5-on-4 advantage.

Power Play Rules

In general, a power play in hockey ends when the team on the power play scores. In the NHL, games are divided into three 20-minute periods, and power plays carry over into the next period if time is still left for the assessed infraction. When a power play ends because the assessed time has elapsed, the player immediately returns to the ice from the penalty box. Other rules during a power play include the icing rule being waived off for the shorthanded team. When a power play situation results due to a penalty called on a team’s goalie, one of the other skaters are allowed to serve the time in the penalty box.

What happens during a power play in hockey?

The idea during any part of a hockey game is to score goals, but teams go into different modes when they have or need to play against a man advantage. The advantaged team employs power play tactics, trying to make the most out of having more skaters than the other team. The short handed team goes into penalty kill mode, the first order of business being to not give up a goal, rather than score one while at a disadvantage.

What ends a power play?

A power plays ends in one of two ways, when a team has a one-man advantage. First, the length of time for the assessed penalty can expire, and the skater returns to the ice. A goal scored by the advantaged team also ends a power play, again, only for a one-man advantage. If a team has two players in the penalty box, when a goal is scored by the other team, one skater returns to the ice that was there due to the first penalty. Then the power play continues.

Here are some quick definitions of power play related terms:

  • Short-Handed: The team that is skating with one or two players in the penalty box.
  • Penalty Killing: The tactics the short-handed team employs to try and run out the time assessed for the penalty without giving up a goal.
  • Most teams have specific players, referred to as “lines” who are put in either when they are on a power play or are short-handed and are trying to kill off a penalty.
  • Short-handed teams frequently try and “dump” the puck into the other end of the ice, making the advantaged team take up time retrieving the puck and returning to the offensive zone.

More Hockey Power Play FAQs

What are the most penalties in one game?

The most penalties awarded in an NHL game is 85 rule infractions called when the Edmonton Oilers played the Los Angeles Kings in Los Angeles, California, USA on 28 February 1990.

What is a powerplay goal?

A powerplay goal is one that is scored by a team while playing with a one or two-man advantage due to the other team being penalized.

What happens during a power play in hockey?

Power play rules state that when a major or minor penalty occurs the penalized player must leave the ice. During this time, the team who committed the penalty must remain shorthanded. They will remain so until a goal is scored for a minor penalty, or until time runs out on the penalty.

How do power plays work during overtime?

In overtime, teams have one less man, as the game is played four on four, to begin with. When penalties occur, the game becomes four on three, allowing for a wide-open style of play.

How long is a power play in hockey?

The length of a power play depends on the severity of the penalty by the opposing team. Two minutes for a minor penalty is the standard, though players can receive a double minor, which would act as two separate two-minute penalties, for a total of four minutes. Major penalties last five minutes. A power play ends if the opposing team also commits a penalty, at which point the game becomes four on four. It also ends if the advantaged team scores a goal.

Can you ice on a power play?

The short-handed team is allowed to ice the puck on the power play, but no icing for the advantaged team. Offsides still occur during a power play.

What is the penalty box?

The penalty box is where players who committed a penalty wait for time to expire on the power play. Both teams have a separate penalty box.

Hockey is a fast and often violent sport, but it does come with a series of important rules. Some of those rules will lead to icing and penalties. A power play is a way of punishing the team and player who committed the penalty.

Essentially, the power play is a player advantage. That’s because the team who committed the penalty must go on the penalty kill, while the offending player has to wait a set period of time to come back on the ice. This makes it easier for the other team to score on the shorthanded team.

While ice hockey is a violent sport, it’s still important to keep the game as safe as possible. So, dangerous hits, like elbowing and boarding are common penalties. Other times penalties might relate to using a stick inappropriately. There are well over 20 fouls that can lead to penalty time.

Power plays carry over from one period to the next, including into overtime. However, they don’t carry over into the next game.

When a penalty is called, the referee will raise their arm to signal that there is a call. However, if the team who is being penalized isn’t touching the puck, play is allowed to continue. This is known as a delayed penalty. Play will stop when the team who committed the penalty touches the puck.

Power Play Explained

A power play occurs when one team receives a penalty that forces them to play with one less man than their opponent. The player who committed the penalty will wait in the penalty box for a set amount of time, and they can’t leave until the other team scores a goal or time on the penalty has expired. The length of time changes, depending on the severity of the penalty. This is considered a major disadvantage to the penalized team, and power-play goals are an important part of a hockey game.

Alex Ovechkin power play

Power Play Structure & Formation

In a traditional power play, one team will have five skaters on the ice, while the other has four. However, in some cases, the power play can be five on three or even a four on three power play. Naturally, this leads to a few different formations and power-play tactics.

  • The Umbrella
  • The Umbrella power play formation is designed to attack the slot by passing between the defensemen and high forward. Passing in the offensive zone should open the attacking team to slap shots. With three skaters playing at the blue line, this formation prevents the shorthanded team from countering. This means the formation is a 2-3 look.
  • The Overload
  • You must have skilled skaters to run the Overload, as they need to cycle the puck. This should create openings low in the attacking zone. Players often end in a formation akin to a 1-2-2.
  • The Spread
  • The goal of the Spread is to move defenders off the blue line to attack the crease. Once the blue line is open, there is more space to shoot. It is the formation most commonly used when the short handed team only has three skaters. It is a 2-1-2 formation.
  • The 1-3-1
  • As the name implies, the 1-3-1 formation uses one player forward, one back, and three in between. The goal is to create passing triangles. It can be centered around point, half boards, or below the goal line, making it versatile. Goals are scored by widening the ice to create shots.

History of Power Plays in Hockey

At one point, you could score as many goals as possible on one power play. That changed during the 1955-56 season, as Jean Beliveau scored three times in 44 seconds. He played for the Montreal Canadiens, and it was decided after the season that a minor penalty would end after the first goal. 

Ice Hockey Power Play FAQs

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