In the first four games of the 2021 NHL Playoffs, the Montreal Canadiens had one shorthanded goal and had given up three powerplay goals. Since then the Canadiens have won seven straight and have yet to trail in any of their games. They have scored three more shorthanded goals and have added six on the powerplay. They have not trailed a game in the last 437:53 minutes of ice time and a primary reason for that is that their special teams have become incredible.
Let’s examine their recent success and what has been a catalyst in their seven-game win streak.
The Canadiens shockingly kept 20-year-old rookie Cole Caufield on the sidelines for the first two games of the opening series against the Toronto Maple Leafs. While Caufield has yet to pot a goal in the eight games since entering the lineup, there is no denying his chemistry with his linemates Nick Suzuki and Tyler Toffoli. His insertion into the powerplay has improved their skill on special teams and has created more space and opportunity for other players. One of the key problems for the Canadiens on the powerplay this season was the lack of creativity and speed to get into the offensive zone. The other weakness was that they depended too much on the shot from the point, thus becoming way too predictable for opposing teams.
Caufield’s speed, hockey IQ, and shot-taking ability have given the Canadiens more energy on the man-advantage, as was evident in this powerplay marker.
There are two other noticeable changes in the powerplay that has led them to this recent surge. First, it’s the play of 36-year-old Corey Perry. Perry was with the Dallas Stars last year and helped the team to the Cup finals. He was a menace in front of the opposing nets utilizing his big body to screen goalies and knock-in any rebounds in front of the net. Perry has three goals during this year’s playoffs, and two of which have come on the powerplay. He signed for a league-minimum $750,000, and it looks like it was the most underrated and best value signing from the last off-season. The biggest goal he scored so far was the eventual Game 7 winner against Toronto which was also on the PP, and you can credit Josh Anderson’s stick for the recent success.
The other big noticeable change is their set-up on the powerplay. Since bringing in Erik Gustaffson to help quarterback one of the PP units, the team has been able to move the puck more effectively. They are using the umbrella formation on the special teams with a bumper in the middle of the ice helping passes make their way through the open lanes, setting up really great chances, something they lacked for most of the season. The power play has gone from a two-minute momentum killer, into a force to be reckoned with.
However, as good as the powerplay has been of late, you cannot forget the other side of things. The Canadiens were tied for the league lead with nine shorthanded goals during the regular season. In the playoffs, the Canadiens penalty killing is leading all teams with a 90% success rate. In 30 penalties taken, Montreal has killed 27 of them off, to go along with four shorthanded markers. This means that their shorthanded unit is actually a +1. Not to mention that two of the four have been game-winning goals.
You need special teams to be a factor to have any chance in the postseason. After falling behind the Maple Leafs three games to one, the Canadiens have turned up their special teams and are now in the final four.