In the post lockout era of the Montreal Canadiens not much has been
consistent. Only 2 players remain in the current Habs roster versus that year (Plekanec
and Markov). 5 head coaches (including Bob Gainey twice) have stood behind the
bench. If you believe the trade rumours swirling around Montreal right now it
seems like more change is on the way.
However, among all the change in Montreal one thing has remained consistent,
excellent special teams. Going into this season Montreal’s penalty kill has
averaged a spot in the upper half of the league with a 82.8% kill percentage.
Meanwhile the even more impressive numbers come from the powerplay which has
averaged 5th place in the league and 21.3% since the lockout.
This year that has all changed. While the penalty kill has been astounding this
year (89.2% and 1st in the league) the powerplay has been the complete reversal.
At 12.2% it is the worst in the league, and by far the worst for the Habs since
To put this fall into perspective if the Canadiens powerplay had been at their
post-lockout worst (before this year) of 19.3% (13th) they would have 13 more
goals this season. At their post lockout average of 21.3% the Habs would have 17
more goals this season. With the of 19 one goal losses the Habs have been dealt
this season 13-17 more goals has to translate into at least 6 or 7 more wins.
What would 6 or 7 more wins do for the Canadiens? With 12-14 more points the
Habs would put the Habs in 6th or 7th. Everything considered this is about where
fans and sports media would have thought this team would be at this point in the
The only questions left to ask at this point is why? What happened to the
powerplay that it hasn’t produced the results that were expected and required
from it this season? It is not a simple answer. It certainly isn’t for lack of
opportunity, the Habs have had 188 chances in 48 games this season, translating
into 4 powerplays per game, 5th highest this season.
Part of it has to be related to the number of injuries the Habs have sustained
this season. Mike Cammalleri took a 3 game injury early on in the season which
got his awful season off to a bad start. Scott Gomez missed 8 games soon after
and shortly after returning was re-injured and missed 21 more games. Then it was
Brian Gionta who missed 11 games after an early December injury and who returned
only to get a season ending injury not too long after. None of these injuries
helped in any way the chemistry and quality of the Habs’ man advantage.
But the injury that has most affected the Habs this past season not only on the
powerplay but in almost every aspect of their game is that to Andrei Markov. 41
of Markov’s 81 career goals have come with the extra man. In the 7 games Markov
played in before going down with the knee injury in 2010 the Montreal powerplay
was at a shocking 23.3%. Markov has always been a powerplay quarterback and that
is exactly what the Habs have needed this season.
When Markov got injured last season Montreal made a quick and savvy move to
replace him acquiring James Wisniewski from the New York Islanders for a 2nd
round pick. This move remains one of the best Pierre Gauthier has ever made in
his time in Montreal. ‘Wiz’ was an instant success and had 7 goals (4 PP) and 23
assists in half a season for the Habs.
This season Gauthier did the logical thing when he found out that Markov would
take a little while to return and made a move for a defenseman to boost the
powerplay. Only this time his move was far more problematic. Bringing in yet
another aging player with a multiple year contract was the last thing Montreal
needed especially when they could have used the cap space that UFA Jaroslav
Spacek would have brought.
However, while Tomas Kaberle has not been the kick in the pants the Canadiens
powerplay really needed he has at least put up points with 13 of them in 20
games with the bleu-blanc-rouge. Early on he also looked like a possible fix as
the powerplay performed well in his first couple games on the point. Since then
things have only gone downhill for the man advantage and Kaberle as well.
Another player who has not been the impact offensively or on the powerplay that
he was last season is P.K. Subban. In his rookie campaign last year Subban
finished with 14 goals. Of those 9 came on the powerplay. This year Subban is
only on pace for about 5 goals. Only 1 so far has come with the man advantage.
Overall this year defenseman have scored only 5 powerplay goals (1 by Subban, 4
by Weber). To put that in perspective Subban’s 9 goals last year is about the
same amount of goals that is projected to be score by ALL of the defense on the
team this year.
While defensive offense has been lacking on the powerplay this year it is not
the only thing missing. The Habs have no stud sniper that can take the shots
that finish off the plays. Erik Cole, who leads the team with 7 powerplay goals
is more around the net than he is a big shot from the circles. Since the lockout
between Alexei Kovalev (45 PP goals with the Habs) and minus this season
Cammalleri (12) the Habs have not had this player.
Finally, although this has never really factored in the Habs powerplay to my
memory, Montreal needs a presence in front of the net. With a Ryan Smyth-type
player I guarantee the Habs would not be in last place in the NHL in that
category. No player in the Habs current lineup is particularly good at screening
the goalie. For the most part this might have had something to do with size.
What do the Canadiens have to do to fix this? Part of it is just patience. Soon
enough Subban will get out of his recent slump and start to put up points on the
powerplay the way he did in his rookie season. Eventually, and hopefully soon
after the All-Star break, Markov will return to the fold and provide the boost
that the PP needs.
As for offense the move to acquire larger players starting with Rene Bourque can
only help the Habs powerplay. Getting a stud sniper at the trade deadline or
offseason would be beneficial to it as well. However, it is doubtful that this
For now the Habs need to really focus on working on the powerplay. It is by no
means the only problem with the Habs this season (shootouts and blown leads
anyone?) but it may be the most important. I have seen several Habs teams post
lockout wiggle into the playoffs entirely because of a solid powerplay. If the
Montreal Canadiens still have playoff aspirations their play with the man
advantage has to get back on track, fast.