A key part of a successful power play is quality point men. The Montreal Canadiens have been blessed in this regard with multiple very high-quality point men over the last few years, headlined by the incomparable Andrei Markov but also featuring strong specialists such as Marc-André Bergeron and James Wisnievski. This has been a factor in Montreal’s recent excellence on the power play; from the lockout until the beginning of last season, they had not finished a season with an efficiency under 19.2% and have not been worse than 13th in the league, had missed the top-5 only twice and twice had led the league in the category. The consistent excellence of their power play had been a defining characteristic of the club for the entirety of the era.
When Montreal struggled on the power play in 2011-2012, therefore, it was natural that the point men would be fingered as a cause. After all, Andrei Markov was injured, they lacked the “shooter” specialist, the Bergeron or Wisnievski of years past, and they resorted to using a forward, Tomas Plekanec, at the point — a moved that was seen as a failure.
How fair was that assessment? Analytics can help us find the answer, but this comes with a caveat. Power play effectiveness is not as well-understood as five-on-five effectiveness, simply because teams play a much smaller portion of their hockey time on the power play. This means that there simply hasn’t been nearly as much data to draw conclusions from.
Nonetheless, just as for five-on-five hockey, it is generally understood that generating scoring chances is the key to long-term success, and that conversion rates may fluctuate over short periods. Because of the smaller samples of power play time, such fluctuations can have a more striking impact; a shooting cold streak that lasts 60 minutes of icetime might mean less two games at even-strength, but that could easily be eight to ten games on the power play.
Let’s examine, then, the performance of the various pairs of point men employed by the Habs over the last three seasons. In the table below I have listed every major 5-on-4 pairing used by the Habs since the 2009-2010 season. I have not included 5-on-3, 4-on-3, or any empty-net situations as those are far too rare to lead to useful conclusions. I have listed the number of scoring chances each pair has recorded (once again, we are indebted to Oliver Bouchard of En Attendant les Nordiques for this invaluable data) and the number of minutes each spent on 5-on-4 power play; the last column is simply a chance-per-minute rate, allowing us to compare pairings that were in use for different amounts of time.
You’ll also note that I split the 2011-2012 pairs between the time spent under Jacques Martin and that spent under Randy Cunneyworth, for reasons that will become clear below.
|2011-2012M||TOMAS KABERLE-P.K. SUBBAN||19||16.18||1.174|
|2009-2010||JAROSLAV SPACEK-ANDREI MARKOV||22||26.78||0.821|
|2011-2012M||TOMAS PLEKANEC-YANNICK WEBER||42||54.10||0.776|
|2009-2010||JAROSLAV SPACEK-JOSH GORGES||15||20.67||0.726|
|2009-2010||PAUL MARA-JOSH GORGES||11||16.48||0.667|
|2009-2010||ROMAN HAMRLIK-ANDREI MARKOV||15||22.58||0.664|
|2010-2011||TOMAS PLEKANEC-JAMES WISNIEWSKI||16||25.62||0.625|
|2011-2012M||RAPHAEL DIAZ-P.K. SUBBAN||19||30.92||0.615|
|2009-2010||JOSH GORGES-ROMAN HAMRLIK||11||18.38||0.598|
|2010-2011||ROMAN HAMRLIK-P.K. SUBBAN||45||75.48||0.596|
|2011-2012M||TOMAS PLEKANEC-P.K. SUBBAN||14||23.67||0.592|
|2010-2011||JAROSLAV SPACEK-P.K. SUBBAN||17||28.82||0.590|
|2009-2010||MARC-ANDRE BERGERON-ANDREI MARKOV||51||86.53||0.589|
|2009-2010||ROMAN HAMRLIK-MARC-ANDRE BERGERON||16||27.23||0.588|
|2010-2011||JAMES WISNIEWSKI-P.K. SUBBAN||47||80.55||0.583|
|2010-2011||JAMES WISNIEWSKI-ROMAN HAMRLIK||24||41.85||0.573|
|2009-2010||JAROSLAV SPACEK-ROMAN HAMRLIK||52||91.83||0.566|
|2011-2012C||P.K. SUBBAN-ANDREI MARKOV||16||28.78||0.556|
|2010-2011||ROMAN HAMRLIK-YANNICK WEBER||26||51.67||0.503|
|2010-2011||P.K. SUBBAN-ANDREI MARKOV||9||17.93||0.502|
|2011-2012M||JOSH GORGES-P.K. SUBBAN||10||20.62||0.485|
|2011-2012C||TOMAS KABERLE-P.K. SUBBAN||46||96.60||0.476|
|2010-2011||JAROSLAV SPACEK-ALEXANDRE PICARD||12||25.32||0.474|
|2009-2010||PAUL MARA-MARC-ANDRE BERGERON||18||41.67||0.432|
|2011-2012M||RAPHAEL DIAZ-YANNICK WEBER||9||22.45||0.401|
|2011-2012C||CHRIS CAMPOLI-YANNICK WEBER||8||21.60||0.370|
|2011-2012C||CHRIS CAMPOLI-RAPHAEL DIAZ||5||13.80||0.362|
|2011-2012C||CHRIS CAMPOLI-P.K. SUBBAN||7||20.12||0.348|
|2011-2012C||TOMAS KABERLE-YANNICK WEBER||8||23.53||0.340|
|2010-2011||JAROSLAV SPACEK-ROMAN HAMRLIK||4||14.08||0.284|
Looking over this data, one can come to a number of conclusions:
Montreal’s early 2011-2012 pairings were not weaker than those of years past in terms of generating scoring chances. This points to similar findings that saw Montreal be among the league leaders in generating PP shots and chances, but having an extended cold streak in terms of conversion. Olivier examined this phenomenon back in January. Martin’s early-season power-play was still one of the very best in the NHL in every way that he could control. Given time, we could’ve expected the team’s goal efficiency to catch up with their chance generation.
For all the flak they receive as point men, Subban and Weber have done quite well this year, relative to other Habs point men. Something to keep in mind when discussing trading Weber; he may be a power play specialist, but he seems to be a good one.
Tomas Plekanec is an excellent point man in terms of chance generation. This is actually not new to 2011-2012; he manned the point with James Wisnievski late in 2010-2011 with Markov out, and the results were also excellent. There was a perception that he struggled early in 2011-2012, but that seems to have been the result of the Habs’ early-season finishing slump combined with a short-term inability to get saves on shorthanded chances against.
That said, the addition of Tomas Kaberle clearly didn’t hurt. Stephan suggested that in Kaberle-Subban the Habs might have a very good power play point-men pairing; this seems like a very fair assessment. Kaberle’s performance with PK Subban under Martin is clearly inflated over a small sample, but it’s nonetheless clear that he is a quality point man.
Finally, and perhaps more tellingly, it’s noticeable how the pairings under Randy Cunneyworth are clustered near the bottom of the chart. Martin’s power play was no weaker at chance generation than their usual, but went on an extended conversion cold streak. When Randy took over, the conversion rate went back to normal… but the team’s chance generation cratered, leading to no net improvement in terms of goals. Cammalleri’s critique of Cunneyworth’s “put bodies in front and bomb from the point” tactics was ill-received, but it was apt; power plays are about puck possession and puck movement, and Cunneyworth’s strategies significantly hampered what had been one of the league’s best collection of PP talent for several years.
Let’s just call a spade a spade: Cunneyworth’s power play was terrible. Point men matter but, it seems, so does coaching.
Nevertheless, the more-than-respectable performance of the Markov-Subban pairing despite this handicap, combined with the sheer dominance of Kaberle-Subban under Martin, hints at good things to come for the Habs’ power play in the future… so long as the right strategy is in place and the Habs do not limit themselves to simply bombing from the point. And while we lack the same extensive data on previous seasons by Michel Therrien, there are encouraging signs: the Penguins were a top-6 power play every season he coached them but 2008-2009, when he was fired… and perhaps it is not a coincidence that the Pens’s foremost point man, Sergei Gonchar, missed all but one game Therrien coached that year.
With their 5-on-5 game a question mark for next season, strength on special teams is likely to be key in shaping Montreal’s success next year. The Habs will have the talent to mount a strong power play, and between Markov, Subban, Kaberle, Plekanec, Weber and even Diaz, they will not be lacking for highly capable point men. It does appear as though their new-again coach can take talent and assemble it into a successful unit. These things are very diffcult to predict, but the ingredients may be in place for Montreal to resume their recent power play excellence.