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THN.com Blog: Big bodies finding new home on power play

When he's not throwing punches with players like Nashville's Triston Grant, Oilers big man Zack Stortini can be found in front of the net on the Edmonton power play. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)

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When he's not throwing punches with players like Nashville's Triston Grant, Oilers big man Zack Stortini can be found in front of the net on the Edmonton power play. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)

You know you’ve defined a niche when people start to think of you when that position is mentioned. And while Detroit’s Tomas Holmstrom probably isn’t looking for those type of accolades, there’s no doubt the strategy of parking a big dude in front of the net on the power play can be referred to as the Homer Effect in his honor.

The biggest beneficiary of this trend has been Chicago’s Dustin Byfuglien, who became a household name (albeit one mangled by most people) during the Stanley Cup playoffs last year when he became Roberto Luongo’s least favorite Hawk.

Now let the record show Byfuglien scored just three goals in those 17 post-season games, but he wreaked enough havoc in front of the net to distract the Flames and Canucks from offensive guns such as Patrick Kane, Martin Havlat and Jonathan Toews.

This season, the Homer Effect is spreading even wider. In a 5-1 romp over Nashville Monday, Edmonton planted 6-foot-3, 228-pound enforcer Zack Stortini in front of Pekka Rinne on an early power play and Stortini buried one. Nary a Preds defender was near him. Did they not want to get punched in the head, or did they just assume Stortini had hands of stone? Big Zack had the answer later in the game when he scored his second of the contest on a swooping rush.

St. Louis has also experimented with a big man in front, using fourth-liner Brad Winchester on the power play. Winchester stands 6-foot-5 and had five goals on the man advantage last year, so obviously there’s something there. Buffalo even deposited giant 6-foot-8 rookie D-man Tyler Myers in front of Detroit’s net Tuesday night.

So the next time your team trots out an unorthodox fifth on the power play, take note of where he goes – chances are it’s right in front, where all the action is.

TURF WAR
I was talking to a friend at a party on the weekend about NHL geography and we came across a good challenge for you, the avid reader.

Where, precisely, are the borders between different fan bases? Here in southern Ontario, the influence of the Toronto Maple Leafs generally snakes around Lake Ontario until you hit St. Catharines; then the populace switches allegiance to the Buffalo Sabres (it’s not iron-clad, but I think you see where I’m going with this). If you go southwest, Leafs Nation ends around Chatham, Ont., then the area goes more for the Detroit Red Wings.

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Similarly, we all know that Manhattan is Rangers turf, while Long Island belongs to the John Tavares Crew.

But what about other locales? Red Deer, Alta., is halfway between Edmonton and Calgary, so who do the locals cheer for besides the hometown junior Rebels? How does a denizen of Harrisburg, Pa., swing? Flyers or Penguins?  

There are a lot of concentrated fan bases in the NHL, especially in the northeast, but I never thought of where the lines are crossed before. If you’ve got knowledge of where the NHL’s psycho-geographical borders lie for any particular teams, hit the comment section below.

Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly throughout the off-season, his column - The Straight Edge - on Fridays, and his prospect feature - The Hot List - on Tuesdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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