What is Power Play in Ice Hockey? Rules Explained

Ice hockey is a popular sport and power play is an important part of the game. 

To understand what a power play in hockey is, it is necessary to look at what causes one, what happens during it, as well as how long it lasts.

Additionally, there are several strategies that teams use in order to capitalize on their numerical advantage and score goals during these situations.

In this article we will explore all aspects of power plays in ice hockey.

What is a power play in hockey?

In hockey, a power play is an advantageous situation for the team with more players on the ice due to penalties incurred by their opponents. It occurs when one team has more skaters than the other due to a penalty call.

During a power play, the team with the extra player will typically set up in their offensive zone and look to create scoring chances.

The power play ends when either: the penalty expires; the shorthanded team clears the puck over its own blue line; or if a goal is scored by either side.

Depending on how many players are serving penalties, there may either be a two-man advantage or three-man advantage for one of teams.

The goal of any power play is for the team with more players on ice to score, but if they fail then they must return to even strength when their advantage ends.

Key Facts

  • Power play is a strategic advantage for a team with more players on the ice.
  • Power plays allow teams to take advantage of their extra players and open up more scoring opportunities.
  • The Overload strategy and the 1-3-1 formation aim to generate high-percentage shots and cause defensive breakdowns.
  • The Spread strategy creates passing lanes, backdoor opportunities, and one timers to increase goal-scoring chances.

What causes a power play in hockey?

A power play in hockey is caused when a player on the opposing team receives a penalty and must go to the penalty box, leaving their team shorthanded on the ice for the duration of the penalty. This can range from two minutes for minor infractions to up to 10 minutes for more severe violations.

During this time, the team of which the offending player is a part does not get to replace him with another member of their team, which gives an advantage to the non-penalized team, known as a power play in ice hockey.

During this time, if the penalized team scores then it is called a ‘penalty kill’ and restores balance between both teams.

What happens during a powerplay in hockey?

When a team has fewer players on the ice due to penalties, they are at a numerical disadvantage and open up potential scoring opportunities for their opponents. This is referred to as a power play in ice hockey.

The team on the power play will have an advantage of one or two players over the opposing team, depending on how many players are in the penalty box. For example, if one player from each team is in the penalty box, then it would be 5-on-4 (a one-man advantage). If two players from one team are in the penalty box, then it would be 5-on-3 (a two-man advantage).

When there is a power play situation, the player still on the ice must work together to cover more space and try to score against fewer defenders. During this time, teams with a numerical advantage often score quickly before their opponent can return to full strength.

The amount of time spent with fewer players depends on how long each respective penalty lasts. Power plays can provide an opportunity for teams to make up lost ground or extend their lead over their opponent if they score during this period when they have an extra player or two on the ice.

How long is a power play in hockey?

A power play in ice hockey is a period during which one team has a numerical advantage due to the other’s penalty. This advantage can be caused by either a 2-minute minor penalty, a double minor penalty that lasts 4 minutes, or a 5-minute major penalty.

Additionally, when an infraction results in a penalty shot, the fouled team will receive the power play opportunity.

During this time the penalized team must stay at least one player short on the ice until either the penalized time expires, their opponent scores during this period of play, or if they take another penalty.

Minor penalty

Minor penalties in ice hockey are generally two minutes in length. When a minor penalty is called, the offending team loses one player and must play with fewer players for two minutes. This advantage to the non-offending team is known as a power play. During this time, the offense has more opportunities to score goals in the offensive zone by using various power play strategies.

Minor penalties often lead to successful power plays due to the differences in personnel numbers on each side of the ice. Power play goals can be scored if teams use effective strategies and take advantage of their numerical superiority during this time.

Additionally, there are different rules that apply when a team is on a power play, such as being unable to make substitutions or changing lines until after the penalty expires.

Double minor penalty

Double minor penalties are typically reserved for more serious infractions, resulting in four minutes of playing time with fewer players on the field. As a result, two players from the offending team must leave the ice and their shorthanded team is at a disadvantage. This leaves the advantaged team with more space to move around and greater opportunities to score.

The penalized players can return after two minutes or at the start of the next period. During this time, they are highly vulnerable as their opponents have an open front of the net and less defenders to worry about. Thus, it is important for teams to be mindful and play responsibly if they want to avoid double minor penalties.

Five minute major

The most severe form of penalty in hockey is the five-minute major, which is reserved for serious offenses that can cause physical harm to another player. Power play in ice hockey refers to a team’s advantage after one of its players has been penalized. The offending team cannot replace their player and must play with fewer players until the penalty time expires or they score a goal.

Power play tactics range from aggressive forechecking to an umbrella power play structure, where the remaining four players form a box shape around the offensive zone and try to maintain puck possession. If a power play scores a goal within the five-minute major penalty time-frame, then all remaining time on the penalty is negated. However, if no goal is scored during this period, then it results in an advantage for the shorthanded team when they return to full strength.

The penalty shot

A penalty shot is a unique form of punishment used in the sport of hockey that serves to discourage players from taking actions that impede a goal-scoring opportunity. It occurs when a player is interfered with or obstructed on a breakaway or partial breakaway, and the referee determines that the player could not get off a shot due to the interference.

A penalty must then be taken by one of the players on the ice, typically chosen by the opposing team’s captain or coach. In a power play situation, if the team who has been awarded the penalty shot scores, they will remain in possession of the puck until either goal is scored or until an infraction has occurred. This gives them an advantage over their opponents as they are effectively playing with more men on the ice.

If no goal is scored during this period, it reverts back to 5-on-5 play. The power play team may also score further goals due to increased scoring opportunities present under these conditions.

What are some power play strategies that a team uses to score?

When teams are in a power play situation, they may choose from three main offensive strategies: the umbrella, overload, and 1-3-1.

The umbrella strategy involves spreading out four players across the ice to create an umbrella shape with one player in the center.

Alternatively, teams may opt for the overload approach which is when two forwards stand on either side of the goal and two defensemen set up behind them.

Lastly, the 1-3-1 formation has one forward at each of the blue lines and three players between them who create a triangle shape while attacking.

All of these strategies aim to maximize scoring opportunities during a power play situation.


Utilizing a three-skater formation at the blue line and two skaters down low, the umbrella strategy is designed to generate high-percentage shots on goal.

During hockey power plays, when a team has an advantage due to major penalties issued to the opposing team, this formation is used in order to maximize their offensive opportunities.

The three skaters up high move the puck around while the two skaters down low screen the goalie and look for deflections on shots. This strategy can create a difficult situation for penalty killers who must face off against only one defender – making it easier for plays to be made near the net.

To counter this play, penalty killers will often use a diamond formation with three skaters in position to disrupt passes and block shots.

Additionally, teams may choose to ice the puck if they are not satisfied with their chances of scoring while on a power play, which sends all players back on the ice after an icing call.


The Overload strategy can be an effective way to create advantageous situations by causing defensive breakdowns and generating high-percentage shots on goal. It involves all skaters playing on the same side in the offensive zone, cycling the puck down low and trying to draw in defenders. The defensemen remain up near the blue line, slightly favoring the side of the forwards’ cycle. When a team is on power play, they have a great opportunity for scoring goals due to having more players on their side than their opponents. Power plays typically last two minutes or less, but can carry advantages when teams play intelligently and work together. Good power play requires proper use of time and space, both offensively and defensively. With these strategies in place, teams have a better chance at success during two-minute power plays.


By deploying a 1-3-1 formation, teams can create situations that lead to quick shot opportunities in high percentage scoring areas. This system puts one forward in front of the net, another in the slot and the last forward above the hash marks on the half boards.

One defenseman is positioned at each opposite side’s half boards, while the other remains near the blueline. With only one defenseman on defense, if there is a breakdown, all skaters must quickly return to prevent an opponent goal.

When deployed properly during power plays, this strategy can be effective for NHL teams as it allows them to capitalize on fast shot opportunities with their quicker skaters. Additionally, when a penalty ends or they are allowed to ice the puck, having more players on the ice gives the team a power play advantage over their opponents and increases their chance of scoring goals.

Power plays work best when all five players move together and take advantage of open spaces created by shifting defenders.


Popular in both 5-on-3 and 5-on-4 power situations, the Spread is a strategic approach designed to create passing lanes and generate goal-scoring chances. This strategy involves all three forwards spread low in the slot, with both defensemen near the blue line.

Extra players on the ice due to a major or minor penalty can lead to an advantage for the team on offense as they are able to open up more ice scores than standard play.

The Spread strategy is an important part of the game of hockey as it gives teams a way to take advantage of their extra players on the ice. The key elements of this power play strategy are drawing out penalty killers, creating backdoor opportunities and one timers, and finding scoring opportunities.

With effective use of this tactic, teams can gain an edge in any game where one team has more players than the other.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can a team avoid being sent to the penalty box during a power play?

In order to avoid being sent to the penalty box during a power play, it is important for team members to be aware of the rules and display disciplined play. This includes refraining from unnecessary penalties and maintaining focus on playing the game according to established regulations.

What advantages do teams have when they have a power play?

When a team has a power play, they have an advantage due to having more players on the ice than the opposing team. This allows them to control possession of the puck more effectively and create higher quality scoring chances. Additionally, it puts pressure on the opposition with less ability to defend against attacks.

What is the difference between a 5-on-4 power play and a 5-on-3 power play?

A 5-on-4 power play involves one team having four players on the ice while the other has five, while a 5-on-3 power play involves one team with three players and the other with five. This gives an advantage to the team with fewer players by allowing for more open space and creating better opportunities for scoring.

What is the most effective way to defend against a power play?

The most effective way to defend against a power play is to maintain a strong defensive stance, avoid taking penalties, and stay organized. The team should also focus on blocking shots and clearing the puck out of their defensive zone quickly.

How does a team capitalize on a power play opportunity?

A team can capitalize on a power play opportunity by looking to gain an advantage in personnel, space and time. Utilizing strategic positioning of players, quick passing and shooting opportunities should be sought to put the team in the best scoring position.

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