The Montreal Canadiens powerplay woes have been well-documented for a long time, and those issues have yet to go anywhere, as evidenced by its ineffectiveness through preseason matchups this fall.
If it’s a personnel issue that’s one thing, but the Canadiens offence has been put together methodically, and the two units have plenty of skill. So, it begs the question, why have the players been unable to climb over the wall of mediocrity to emerge as a middle-of-the-pack powerplay team?
It’s obvious right away that opponents have figured out how the Habs will try to enter the zone and set up, so it’s doomed before it even starts. Generally, Cole Caufield will carry the puck to the blueline, then slingshot it back to Nick Suzuki who rushes up the ice, but the rest of the unit sits stagnantly at the offensive blueline. This plan lacks complexity and needs to see a change, in some order, or else it will continue to plague the Canadiens and slow the offence down.
When Claude Julien was at the helm of the Canadiens, his assistant Kirk Muller was in charge of the powerplay and it wasn’t great then. Then when Dominique Ducharme took over bench boss duties, his assistant Alexandre Burrows tried his best to flip the script, but it’s shown no improvements thus far. Still, with Martin St. Louis behind the bench calling the shots, Burrows remains, and so too do his lacklustre powerplay plans.
One thing is certain, the best teams separate themselves from the pack, especially during the playoffs, based on the strength of their special teams units. Momentum is massive in the playoffs, and when the Habs get an opportunity but don’t get a goal, it can start to eat away at the team, and the opposition sees that. Taking penalties against a team with a poor powerplay isn’t intimidating, because it’s essentially two minutes for the penalty killers to retrieve the puck and clear it out.
It is only preseason, but with each game that passes, the importance of being prepared in all facets of the game for the regular season grows more important. With that said, if this mediocrity becomes the storyline for the Canadiens powerplay in 2024, it will hold back the offensive players, which doesn’t bode well for the rebuild. The cast of players is there, but the coaching just seems to be dated and in need of a fresh face.
Burrows has had ample opportunities to kickstart the two units, and he has benefitted from having a longer leash, because of the state of the Canadiens right now. But, I would have to think that this can only go so far, and if by the all-star break, there’s no improvement, it might be time to move on from Burrows. Sure he has the NHL resume, but that doesn’t really matter if he can’t deploy a system that helps the team, and allows them to give the offence a boost, why keep trying the same thing over and over that doesn’t work?
For the Canadiens to get the most out of the offence, and build a culture from the young guys through to the veterans, there needs to be an effective system. It’s never easy when members of the team are traded or given the proverbial axe, but it’s all part of the business. St. Louis’s hiring and eventual ascension to the head coach role showed a willingness from the organization to think outside of the box, and doing so a second time for the benefit and growth of the powerplay should prove to be a crucial decision.
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