The Montreal Canadiens have struggled on the man advantage this year, but this trend goes back a few years now.
After Tuesday’s game against the Ottawa Senators, the Canadiens officially own the worst power play in the league, sitting at 32nd overall in the NHL with a paltry 14% efficiency.
A relatively efficient power play is not just the best way to gain momentum on any given night, but it’s also crucial for a young team like the Canadiens who are looking to provide their players with a healthy amount of confidence as they develop their young core in the NHL.
It’s also worth discussing the negative value of a lifeless power play.
What should lead to an uptick in energy and motivation for the Canadiens has instead become a morale-breaking event, one that gives opponents the momentum on most nights.
The top power play wave has more pure talent on it now than it has in the past five years, but somehow the results are worse.
Since the 2018-2019 season, the Montreal Canadiens since 32nd in the NHL in power play efficiency with 15.4%, with the Detroit Red Wings in the clear for 31st overall with 16%.
Having the worst power play over half a decade shows a trend in the problematic for the Canadiens.
They’ve had talented forwards like Max Domi, Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, Tyler Toffoli and more play on that top wave, come out with 60+ point seasons (or points pace) and have very little success on the man advantage.
But the problem isn’t the forwards; it’s the strategy and roster makeup that have hurt the Canadiens in the past.
If the Canadiens want to play a diamond formation, with Caufield and Suzuki on opposite circles for shooting options, they simply cannot go without an elite power play quarterback at the top of the diamond that can be a shooting threat from the top, but also a savvy playmaker.
The Canadiens used to have some of those, not so long ago.
A Power Play QB
Let’s call a spade a spade, the Montreal Canadiens’ power play has been terrible since the departure of Andrei Markov and, to a lesser extent, the trading of P.K. Subban.
The General, even in his late 30s, processed the game at such an elite pace, that even when his body was slowing down, his mind still allowed him to lift the Canadiens to, at worst, the middle of the NHL, in terms of power play success.
As of 2018, Weber began to miss a lot of time due to injuries that ultimately forced him on LTIR, so Petry was tasked with running the top wave, to the same results.
We can all remember the frustration many had with Petry’s shoot-first mentality, when so much ice was available for open shooters, like Cole Caufield last season.
The lack of a true power play quarterback at the top of the first wave has been the biggest issue.
Nevermind that Kaiden Guhle could likely run the 2nd power play wave with ease, as he did with the Edmonton Oil Kings; let’s just focus on the top wave.
Without a true dual-threat, the defending team can simply keep their formation lower in the zone, since they don’t respect the shooting capability of the player at the top of the point (be it Jonathan Drouin, Chris Wideman, or Mike Hoffman from that far out).
This also allows the defending team to double-cover Cole Caufield (as seen below), without opening up any extra passing lanes.
In The Works
It’s worth noting that, the Montreal Canadiens management team is fully aware of this massive hole in their organizational depth chart.
In fact, EVP Jeff Gorton has openly admitted that the Canadiens need to get themselves such a player if they’re to have any sustainable success on the man advantage (and no, pencilling in Lane Hutson is not going to help the Canadiens in the next two-three years).
In his eyes, the Canadiens’ biggest need is a puck-moving, minute-munching defenceman capable of playing a top-pair role for the club and managing all facets of the game.
“I think that, if you look at our team, it’s pretty clear we can use an offensive defenceman who can run our powerplay,” said Gorton of his desire to add a top-end defenceman down the line. “An elite kind of guy that eat a lot of minutes and be a powerplay guy.”
The Canadiens will be looking to identify and acquire some top-end puck-moving defencemen, like on the right side.
It may be painful for now, but one can expect Kent Hughes to be very active in this regard, as an efficient power play could help vault the Canadiens to the next level in the not-so-distant future.