Since December 5th, 2013, the Montreal Canadiens power play has been a one-trick pony, and ranked in the bottom third of the National Hockey League.
Many believe the problems starts behind the bench, with a collective lack of offensive prowess among the Canadiens’ brain trust. Some would have you think that analytics dictates who gets to play with the man advantage. While that may be true on teams with a plethora of offensive talent, like Chicago or Pittsburgh, a team like Montreal needs to look at its power play proficiency historically and pinpoint what could work for them.
The Bomb From The Point Is Mandatory
The Habs have always been blessed with some of the best point shots in the league, with the likes of rear guards Vladimir Malakov, Sheldon Souray, Mark Streit, Marc-Andre Bergeron and now P.K. Subban.
Despite the big shot, since the 2000-01 season, there has been one constant on the point. The presence of Andrei Markov to help distribute the puck. The native of Voskresensk, Russia has shown an incredible ability to read penalty killing formations, finding passing lanes or sneaking in back door when the situation allowed it.
Essentially, a howitzer from the point and a puck distributor is a must for any power play strategy.
Creating Offense Off The Half-Wall
There was no one better than former Habs’ right winger Alex Kovalev as far as offensive productivity from the hash marks in is concerned. His incredible stick handling ability, along with his vision and patented outside-in deke were unparalleled in his stint with the Canadiens.
Prior to Kovalev’s arrival in Montreal, former captain Saku Koivu, as well as right-winger Mark Recchi, had the same ability to see the ice and pick their spots, although their skill level didn’t compare to that of “L’Artiste.”
Movement Is The Key
Whether it was the 80’s, where the power play had Bobby Smith, Mats Naslund and Kjell Dahlin, or the 90’s with Vincent Damphousse and Brian Bellows, or the 2000’s with the aforementioned components, there was one constant. Not a single player was stationary.
Defenseman were given the liberty of moving from the slot to the point and forwards could switch wings ad-nauseaum.
For example, when Bobby Smith would carry the puck deep into the offensive zone on the power play, Naslund would shade over to the right-wing as an option should Smith continue behind the net. If Smith would stop in the corner, “The Little Viking” would cut through the slot, giving Smith a passing option. If that wasn’t available, the puck would come back to the point to Chris Chelios, while Smith would take position in the slot and Naslund would post up at the hash marks on the strong side.
Mandatory Power Play Prerequisites
As a hockey coach myself, I always look for two out of three skill components when assessing a player’s potential power play effectiveness. Speed, vision and size are the keys to an effective power play.
Using those factors, players like David Desharnais and Brendan Gallagher would not get a stiff of power play time, despite their effort level or offensive gifts.
The Tools Are There For Success
In my piece earlier this week titled “No Offensive Talent? The Canadiens Have Plenty“, I outline the offense the Canadiens could generate with the components they have. That same strategy can be applied to restructuring the power play.
Using the requirements I’ve laid out, these are the power play units that I would have on the Canadiens:
Alex Galchenyuk – RW, Lars Eller – C, Max Pacioretty – LW, P.K. Subban and Nathan Beaulieu – D
Tomas Plekanec – RW, Jakob De La Rose -C, P-A Parenteau – LW, Andrei Markov and Jeff Petry – D
Some of you may think I’m mentally unstable at this point, but look at the dynamic.Feb 10, 2015; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens defenseman Nathan Beaulieu (28) skates with the puck against Philadelphia Flyers during the second period at Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports
Beaulieu & Markov – Point quaterbacks
Both defenseman have the ability to skate up and down the offensive zone, alternate their positions to find passing lanes and create confusion for the defending team.
Subban & Petry – Point-side shooters
Everyone knows that both these rear guards can hammer a puck on goal without missing the net the majority of the time. Shot accuracy is of key importance for any shots coming from the point, since they oftentimes create second chance opportunities because of their velocity.Mar 10, 2015; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens center Tomas Plekanec (14) plays the puck against Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Jonathan Drouin (27) during the first period at Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports
Galchenyuk & Plekanec – Half-wall quarterback
Both players have the ability to shuffle up and down the half-wall while looking for options. Galchenyuk more than Plekanec has the skill set that is best suited to replace the power play creativity lost after the departure of Kovalev. Their skill set also lends itself to carrying the puck into the offensive, maintaining possession of the puck, and finding the right outlet for distribution. They would also serves as the second centre on their respective units.
Eller & De La Rose – Net-front & support
These youngsters show the physical attributes that are required to retrieve pucks that are dumped into the zone when the situation dictates it, or come in support to another forward that may get to the puck first. They also have the physical strength to establish position in front of the net to fend off defenders and screen goaltenders, while having hands that are soft enough to finish on rebounds in tight.Feb 8, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Montreal Canadiens left wing Max Pacioretty (67) controls the puck on a break away during the third period against the Boston Bruins at TD Banknorth Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Pacioretty & Parenteau – Shooters
These veteran forwards have shown success up until this point in their careers when their sole responsibility is to shoot the puck. While Parenteau can also serve as a puck distributor, Pacioretty’s ability to drive the net and wreak havoc in the mid-ice lane would open up second chance opportunities for anyone that may be trailing the Canadiens’ leading goal scorer as he enters the attacking zone.
Sound thinking? You be the judge.
Special teams aren’t rocket science, but they require strategy and knowledge of the abilities of every player on your roster. I’m sure that Habs’ head coach Michel Therrien knows his wards very well, but his reluctance to use set units for his power play instead of just rolling his lines has even the most knowledgeable hockey mind baffled.