The Montreal Canadiens have struggled to achieve power-play success over the last couple of years. The team finished 23rd in the league in power-play goals-for in 2014-15, and this year, they are on pace for a slightly more impressive, but still low 51 (per ESPN stats).
Despite the small jump in power-play effectiveness, the team’s strategy when up a man could use some changes. In today’s NHL, special teams are crucial to success. The Canadiens’ recent goal scoring troubles are one of the main causes for their lack of success. A more effective power-play could help a team that desperately needs to find a way to score more goals on a consistent basis. This article will look at what’s wrong with the Habs power-play, whether they have the necessary pieces for an effective power-play, and what they should change in order to be more successful.
What’s Wrong with the Canadiens’ Power-Play?
The Canadiens have a few very capable shooters on their power-play. Max Pacioretty, P.K. Subban, and Alex Galchenyuk always get time on the power-play for the Habs, and they are known for being gifted offensive players. The team, though, still seems to struggle – even though these three players are known for having extremely accurate and powerful shots. The Habs power-play could use a few tweaks, starting from right when the puck drops.
A usual Habs power-play starts with a lost offensive zone face-off leading to the opposing team clearing the puck. An important part of any power-play is maintaining offensive zone pressure. The Habs two most common power-play centres are Tomas Plekanec, and David Desharnais. Though Plekanec is one of the stronger Canadiens’ centres face-off wise, Desharnais is actually one of the weaker centres in the circle. A proposed solution to these lost offensive zone face-offs could be replacing Desharnais at
centre, and allowing a centre with a higher face-off win percentage to take his place. Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuk are forwards that have been moved from the wing to centre and back a few times this season. Though they may not be full-time centres, they both have higher face-off win percentages than Desharnais (per Hockey Reference). These two would be suitable replacements for Desharnais at centre on the power-play, thus improving the Habs’ chances of winning offensive zone draws.
The next issue, is that the Habs shouldn’t be playing dump and chase on the power-play. The team is simply too small to win corner battles against bigger, stronger opposing team’s defencemen. Dump and chase on the power-play doesn’t work for the Canadiens, and it should be one of the first things that is changed.
Another issue with the Habs power-play is the lack of net presence. Other than Brendan Gallagher, there is no Habs player that is willing to pay the price in front of opposing goalies. In Gallagher’s absence, rookie Daniel Carr stepped up and showed that he would be willing to go to the net like Gallagher, but Carr went down with a serious injury last month that will have him on the shelf until next season. The team has to find another player to get to the net, and to do what Brendan Gallagher does so well.
Finally, the player that could take the Habs power-play back to the top of the league is P.K. Subban, but he is being shadowed. The Habs’ power-play is too predictable – teams find a way to cover P.K. and ensure that he doesn’t blast any one-timers from the point. Once P.K. is covered, well, the power-play is in trouble. The Habs should find a way to free P.K., and to let him do what he does best – which is firing slapshots from his off-side. P.K. can singlehandedly turn around the Habs power-play, IF the coaching staff can find a way to get him more ice to work with. Easier said than done? Definitely – but there’s a way to get the all-star some space, and it’ll be discussed soon.
Do the Habs Have the Necessary Pieces for Power-Play Success?
The Habs have a couple of good offensively gifted players that they use on the power-play, but they’re missing a few. The fact is, the team could use a few more natural goal scorers to help boost their offence as a whole. Though they may need a few extra guys to help them out offensively, this shouldn’t be an excuse for not being able to score when up a man. The issues with the Habs power-play lie more in the way that they manage the puck, and the way that they set up. The Habs must find a way to get more net presence, and to create rebounds and deflections. Goalies in the NHL are too good to be beat by clean shots, so the Habs have to get more players in front of the blue paint, and they have to create circulation in the offensive zone.
Here’s What They Should Change:
Strategically, there are a few things that the Canadiens should change. The first of which, is bringing a player back to the high slot. For a short period at the beginning of the season, the Habs played with one player down low, one at the circle, and one in the high slot. The team used this strategy a couple of years ago, but they abandoned it a few weeks into the season. The team should bring a player back to the high slot, as it would force the opposing defences to close down their box to try to cut off the passes to the player in the high slot. If the high slot trigger man isn’t properly covered, the usual result is a quick one timer from the slot that lead to chances around the net (see video below).
What does this minor change do? Well, teams have to decide whether to play a smaller box – and cover the man in the high slot, or to play a larger box – and cover the points. When making this decision, teams will leave at least one player open for a shot. This is where P.K. Subban waits for his one time tee-up. If the coaching staff were to place someone like Max Pacioretty (who is known for having a very good shot) in the slot, teams would be forced to close down on him to ensure that he doesn’t get an open try at their goalie from a perfect position. As shown in the video above, Brendan Gallagher could also serve as the trigger man, though he’d be best suited to play near the net.
The Canadiens must also find a new way to enter the offensive zone on the power-play. The two strategies that they have are: either dumping and chasing (which rarely works), or having one player carry the puck in while the others wait at the blue line. The zone entry should be some sort of elaborate play that uses the Habs’ speed. Rather than forcing smaller wingers to battle for pucks in the corners, why not let the speedy players whip into the zone – catching opposing teams’ flat-footed.
Lastly, the most important thing that the Canadiens should change about their power-play is the mobility of the players. Teams predict what the Habs will do so easily, due to the stagnant nature of the power-play. The players kind of just stand around awaiting a pass. It’s simply too easy for opposing penalty killing units to cut off the lanes with nobody moving. The Habs should get some players moving, as this is a simple way to open up the penalty killing box.
Also, what ever happened to the good old Andrei Markov sneak play?
Mobile defencemen like Markov, along with Nathan Beaulieu and Mark Barberio could take advantage of the play that had worked for the Canadiens for so long until they inexplicably stopped using it. With players moving, and with a variety of different plays, the Habs’ power-play could turn into one of the harder ones to defend against – like it once was.
There is no reason for the Habs to have power-play struggles, as they have the necessary pieces to succeed. They must change a few things, keep their players moving, and make themselves hard to defend against – instead of running the same play to P.K. at the point every power-play. If the Canadiens can make their man advantage unpredictable, there is no doubt that they can have success.
I’m a Montreal Canadiens columnist and lifelong Habs fan. Follow me on Twitter (@gregkatz19) for all kinds of hockey talk, and to be up to date on my newest articles. I previously wrote for Too Many Men on the Site, a part of Fansided NHL.