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How to Fix the Canadiens Power Play Woes

It’s no secret to Montreal Canadiens fans that the team’s power play has struggled mightily for the past couple of seasons. In 2013-14, they finished 19th overall with a 17.2% success rate. In the lockout-shortened season, they finished at 20.7%, good enough for fifth overall. In 2011-12, they had one of their statistically-worst seasons in club history, and the power play was no different, falling to 28th overall at a lowly 14.3%.

In the 2013-14 campaign, the Canadiens’ power play, headed by assistant coach Gerard Gallant, was hugely inconsistent. They managed 48 goals, tied for 16th overall with the New York Rangers, on an astounding 279 power play opportunities. With an average of just over three power plays a game, the Habs ranked 11th overall in the league.

Their home and away power play records were strikingly similar, having 140 opportunities at home (scoring 24 goals) and having 139 power plays on the road (scoring 24 goals), so there was no arena or city in particular where their power play managed to suddenly pick up, unless you go deeper into the numbers. The Habs basically went 5.8 opportunities without scoring a goal; that would put them at only scoring one power play goal every other game, which that isn’t a good number, especially when we know that the Habs went long stretches of not converting on the man advantage.

The 2014-15 edition of the Montreal Canadiens have seemed to start off the exact same. Before last night’s nail-biter of a win against the Boston Bruins, the Habs were 0-for-14 on the power play, which is now coached by Dan Lacroix. Boston gave them three power plays, although it should have been four if not for P. K. Subban receiving an “embellishment” call, but that’s another story. The Habs took advantage by scoring on two of those.

Max Pacioretty scored the first power play goal of the season, also being the first home goal of 2014-15, and P.A. Parenteau added the insurance goal on the power play with the empty netter.

The question I’m asking is this: did the Habs power play really start to click or is Tuukka Rask’s abysmal record against the Habs, which prior to last night was 3-10-3 with a high 2.68 GAA and a .908 SV%, something to be thankful for? If Rask’s performance was the reason for the Habs sudden power play spark, they will probably regress by next game and return to their horrible ways once again. So, what can they do?

In looking at the two powerplay goals scored. One was an empty netter, and Max Pacioretty’s came off putting in a rebound following a nice rush by David Desharnais. They weren’t exactly typical powerplay goals, created out of possession and good puck movement in the offensive zone and that has to be a concern.

How to Fix the Canadiens Power Play Woes

The first suggestion is the simplest and easiest to implement: shoot more. Anytime I watch their power play, I notice it’s full of complicated, fancy passes and maybe one to three shots every two minutes, sometimes more. The Habs have been a good puck possession team early in the season and yes, you need to pass to get the goalie out of position, but fifty passes within thirty seconds is just too much.

I was obviously exaggerating with that number, but you get it. Shooting more is bound to let an errant puck in or create a juicy rebound. Passing only does two things: make a goalie nervous (good), or create a turnover (bad).

Second is sort of a no-brainer. Stop using the exact same lines at 5-on-5 on the power play. Opponents already have game plans to shut down these lines, so they obviously know how they will work, what they plan to do, and where they will wait to pick up a puck. Take off David Desharnais and put Alex Galchenyuk in his spot with Pacioretty and Gallagher or Parenteau. Just switch up the lines already. It’s bound to create some good chances and maybe head coach Michel Therrien will notice that “player X” works well with “player Y,” thus creating a more successful power play.

My final suggestion is one that may catch the most flak, but if you really think about it, it could be the most productive. It falls under switching up the lines, but instead of putting a third forward, add a third defenseman, either Subban, Nathan Beaulieu, or Jarred Tinordi, to the unit.

Subban and Beaulieu are pretty easy to figure out as to why they would be beneficial on the forward lines of the power play. Both have the puck handling skill set that is highly desired in offensive defensemen. Both can rush the puck up ice, create chances, and dangle through defense. Subban especially. So, why can’t they just do this from the defense position?

If you watch Subban on the power play, you’ll notice he is closely shadowed on the point and is still more often than not able to get a slap shot off. Lining him up as a forward would allow him to move a little more freely and allow the defensive pairing to get in position.

Here’s another reason why putting a third defenseman on is a good idea. Imagine Subban coughs up the puck near the goalie or in the middle of the offensive zone and the only player near the second defenseman is Brendan Gallagher. Now the opponents are rushing down ice, and it is just Gallagher and Tom Gilbert left to defend. Is that a good situation to have? No.

Putting two defensemen on defense and one on forward ensures that in the case of a sudden turnover, the team is prepared. By adding Gilbert and promoting Beaulieu, we now have a solid blue line who can all play on the power play, with the exception of Mike Weaver.

So where does Tinordi fit in as that third defenseman on the forward line? Put the big guy, 6-foot-6 and 227 pounds, as the screen in front of the goalie, much like how Boston does with Zdeno Chara. Coincidentally, the Bruins scored a power play goal using that exact play. Tinordi is a big, strong guy who could withstand the punishment of posting up in front of a goalie and is big enough to properly screen and tip a shot in. If I chose to put a defenseman on as a forward, this would be my first option. Take out either Desharnais or Parenteau to allow Tinordi to try it out.

Maybe this is an overreaction, but based on what we saw last season as well as during the first four games of 2014-15, it looks like the Habs’ power play is in for another long year. One of these suggestions may work and help create some much-needed production. If only Michel Therrien reads this.


Ben Kerr’s Thoughts:

I don’t think you need to be that radical.

The first thing I’d do is recognize that teams are taking away Subban’s slap shot and thats the biggest reason for the Habs PP percentage really dropping.

So what needs to happen.

1) Markov and Subban need to switch spots more often than they are doing this season. Markov on right defence and Subban on Left D would set up the one timer and let him get it off faster. This would be big.

2) You need to set up more down low plays as teams are defending very high on Subban. The down low back-door play should be open, but the Habs aren’t taking advantage of it.

3) You need to get another shooting threat other than Subban. Let one of Pacioretty, Parenteau, or Galchenyuk (three guys with excellent wrist shots and releases) set up in the old Kovalev spot at the top of the circle. This gives Markov another passing option when teams play high on Subban.


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