2011-12 Season Preview Part 1: The Power Play

With the season about to start this evening I've decided to begin previewing the up coming season. In a multi-part series I while give you my break-down of the special teams, forward lines and defensive pairings at even strength. We start with Montreal’s traditional strength, the power play.

Rather than review the basic and familiar counting statistic (goals, assists etc.) I will be taking a look at how well players have performed on a per-minute basis. As a single season is a poor indicator of a player’s real talents and expected future performance, both the last season and the 4 year average performance will be examined. The 4 year averages are weighted according to total minutes played which avoids placing too much weight in low-ice time years or season cut down by injury.

The Canadiens' prowess with the man-advantage has been a cornerstone of their offense since before the lock out.  As such they are one of the teams most victimized by the recent trend against calling penalties from the post-lockout heights. Year in and out, the team has been able to be amongst the top in the league and convert on around 20% of their opportunities. Montreal has been prevented from fully exploiting this advantage for the past 3 years by a diminished ability to draw penalties. While penalties are down league wide, Montreal also has tended to be much more heavily penalized than their opponents during that stretch.

Year

PP%

PP goals

SHGA

Adjusted PP%

% of Team Offense

2005-06

19.2

89

6

17.91

36.93

2006-07

22.8

86

6

21.21

35.98

2007-08

24.1

90

3

23.30

35.02

2008-09

20.1

66

6

18.27

27.27

2009-10

21.8

57

8

18.74

27.14

2010-11

19.7

57

6

17.63

26.76

 

Adjusted PP% takes into account short-handed goals in power play efficiency.

Looking forward to the upcoming season, the Habs ability to score with the man advantage figures to be a major part of any anticipated success they will enjoy. As such the season preview begins with a breakdown of the players that will form Montreal's power play formations.

 The stats are taken just from 5 on 4 play to avoid the distorting effect of the other powerplay types. To get a idea of what is a typical performance from each player is I took a four year average of performance weighted to powerplay ice time per season. As a result, the season totals will slightly undershoot the total power play production for each player. A typical power play will score about 5.5-6 goals per 60 minutes. Any scoring level above that is quite good and elite production tends to be in the vicinity of 8 goals per 60 minutes.


The Aces:

Markov

Goals

Points

Games

Goals per Game

Points per Game

Goals per 60 minutes

Points per 60 minutes

Team Goals per 60 minutes

Minutes per Game

Last Season*

4

15

45

0.09

0.33

1.70

6.36

10.18

3.14

Past 4 Seasons

19

73

209

0.09

0.35

1.23

4.79

8.65

4.37

*2009-10

Quite possibly the greatest powerplay quarterback in the world, Andrei Markov is widely considered the key stone of Montreal's powerplay dominance, although P.K. Subban and James Wisniewski's performance last season seemed to compensate. Markov's points per minute is just as strong as any of the forwards and his team on ice scoring is better than every player with more than one year of real powerplay time. Over the past 4 years Markov leagues the entire league in team goals scoring rate amongst defensemen (6th overall). This is ahead of the likes of Boyle, Ehrhoff and Lidstrom who played behind elite powerplay forward talent.

Markov's combination of high offensive IQ and mobility with sublime passing skills and an accurate shot makes him a nightmare for opposing defenses.   If healthy, expect Markov to play big minutes on the left point of the powerplay and continue to produce big numbers.

Markov's 2009-10 campaign was taken to be his last season to avoid looking at just a 7 game sample size, those 7 game were still used for the 4 year averages

Subban

Goals

Points

Games

Goals per Game

Points per Game

Goals per 60 minutes

Points per 60 minutes

Team Goals per 60 minutes

Minutes per Game

Last Season

7

16

77

0.09

0.21

1.86

4.25

6.38

2.93

Past 2 Seasons

7

17

79

0.09

0.21

1.79

4.35

6.41

2.96

 

Subban was the best goalscoring defenseman on the team last season and the most effective 5 on 4 goal scorer among defensemen in the league. His 1.86 goals per 60 minutes edged out Anton Babchuk's 1.78 as well as Brent Seabrook, Alexander Edler, Jordan Leopold and Brent Burns for the highest among regular PP defensemen for both this and last season. Subban shows up on the leader board for a number of other power play stats, including relCorsi (11th), Corsi (11th), points per minute (13th) and team goals per minute (27th) (rankings among regular powerplay defensemen 2:00+ minutes per game and 40 games). This is a tour de force for a 21 year old rookie. His counting stats aren't bad either, leading the league in 5 on 4 (7) and total powerplay (9) goals from a defenseman and 18 points for 21st in the league. Had he played close to 4 minutes of 5 on 4 time per game like some of his competitors its easy to see him in the top 10-15 for points on the year.

A lethal combination of mobility, shooting and passing skills ensures that he gets open often and then converts. Play Subban close and risk him beating you close and creating a bigger man advantage or leaving a teammate open for a quick one timing pass. Play Subban far and he can walk up and shoot on net. And when he doesn't have the puck his tremendous mobility allows him to find and create new passing and shooting lanes for his own one-timer opportunities. Like Markov before him, Subban should have a long career of power play dominance ahead of him.

Cammalleri

Goals

Points

Games

Goals per Game

Points per Game

Goals per 60 minutes

Points per 60 minutes

Team Goals per 60 minutes

Minutes per Game

Last Season

6

17

67

0.09

0.25

1.87

5.31

8.11

2.87

Past 4 Seasons

35

76

276

0.13

0.28

2.29

4.98

7.60

3.31

 

Last year was another strong campaign with the extra man for Mike Cammalleri on the powerplay, with all totals but goal scoring above average.  Cammalleri has the best historic totals of any Montreal veteran, with excellent goal scoring, point collecting and team on-ice performance.  Cammalleri is a major threat from the left half-boards, being able to beat a goaltender with either his famous one-timer slapshot or an accurate wrist shot through traffic and the passing ability to create an opportunity for a teammate when he doesn't have a shooting lane. While he is unlikely to replicate his monster powerplay season in Calgary (18 goals and 31 points 5 on 4), Cammalleri is a key part of the Canadien's extra man strategy, especially as part of Montreal's favorite tactic of setting up cross-ice plays from the left point to the right half boards with Markov or Subban.

Plekanec

Goals

Points

Games

Goals per Game

Points per Game

Goals per 60 minutes

Points per 60 minutes

Team Goals per 60 minutes

Minutes per Game

Last Season

3

16

77

0.04

0.21

0.84

4.51

7.60

2.77

Past 4 Seasons

22

75

320

0.07

0.23

1.43

4.88

7.61

2.88

 

Tomas Plekanec has become less of a powerplay goal scorer under the Martin regime rather than Carboneau's system but remains just as strong a point producer. Last season was largely an average one for Montreal's top forward on the power play. Plekanec's role is strongly defined in Montreal's powerplay setup, usually he sets up behind the goal line on the strong side to be a secondary playmaker and puck distributor and the go to man to retrieve the puck from opposing defensemen.

 

Pacioretty

Goals

Points

Games

Goals per Game

Points per Game

Goals per 60 minutes

Points per 60 minutes

Team Goals per 60 minutes

Minutes per Game

Last Season

6

7

37

0.16

0.19

4.07

4.75

8.83

2.39

Past 3 Seasons

7

13

123

0.06

0.11

2.56

4.76

9.52

1.33

 

While Max Pacioretty has only been an integral part of the Canadiens' power play for a single season, he made an immediate impact. He was the best goalscorer with the man advantage scoring 7 total in his 37 games (6 5 on 4) and the powerplay was the most effect for the season when he player on it. While he had a major breakout this season, his performance is not entirely surprising. He was a pretty good player with the man advantage in the limited minutes he played their before this season, sporting good point and team scoring rates if not the goalscoring he demonstrated this season.

Pacioretty's role on the powerplay is simple, stand in front of or to the side of the goaltender and screen him while looking to pick up the puck by pass or rebound for scoring chances on top of the net minder. Coupled with Montreal's strong shooting and puckmoving skills, this led to goals and lots of them for Montreal.

 

The Secondary Players

These are the historically less productive players who are expected to see significant powerplay minutes this season. While decently productive, they can't match the man advantage skills of the top 5 players.

Kostitsyn

Goals

Points

Games

Goals per Game

Points per Game

Goals per 60 minutes

Points per 60 minutes

Team Goals per 60 minutes

Minutes per Game

Last Season

3

7

81

0.03

0.09

1.03

2.41

5.85

2.15

Past 4 Season

25

41

292

0.09

0.14

2.00

3.28

7.11

2.57

 

Andrei Kostitsyn's powerplay production took a dip from its usual levels last season. Playing less minutes and producing less than average across the board. However, this is largely because 2 of his goals and 4 of his points took place on non 5 on 4 situations, which bring him to a very respectable 11 points on the year. Kostitsyn has typically played the role of net man on the Habs man advantage, parking his strong frame in the low slot to tie up defensemen and look for free pucks in front of the net. This role is coming under challenge from Pacioretty who was better at it last season and new comer Cole. Kostitsyn remains a worthy power play forward though, that should find a job on one of the top 2 units.

Gomez

Goals

Points

Games

Goals per Game

Points per Game

Goals per 60 minutes

Points per 60 minutes

Team Goals per 60 minutes

Minutes per Game

Last Season

3

16

80

0.04

0.20

0.86

4.61

6.91

2.60

Past 4 Seasons

16

70

316

0.05

0.22

0.97

4.23

5.86

3.14

 

Scott Gomez is by no means a bad power play center, consistently in vicinity of 20 points on the year with solid point. His biggest sin on the Habs here is not being quite as strong a powerplay center as Tomas Plekanec who tends to get somewhat more success with the man advantage. Last season for Gomez was essentially average except for somewhat less ice time than normal. Gomez's main talent is his ability to carry the puck into the offensive zone against resistance to set up the play. Once set up he takes on a puck distributing role either from the half boards (in Cammalleri's absence) or behind the goal line and occasionally migrates to the front of the net.

His overall utility is hampered by his lack of a good shot to make him anything of a scoring threat from a distance but in Martin's system the centers are used almost exclusively as playmakers rather than shooters so Gomez is fine without a good shot.

 

Gionta

Goals

Points

Games

Goals per Game

Points per Game

Goals per 60 minutes

Points per 60 minutes

Team Goals per 60 minutes

Minutes per Game

Last Season

7

9

82

0.09

0.11

1.91

2.51

6.01

2.68

Past 4 Seasons

25

51

306

0.08

0.16

1.76

3.61

5.86

2.78

 

Brian Gionta's power play abilities are better described as competent rather than strong. His speed and shooting based game are better suited to scoring on the rush than the power play. His nose for the net and good shooting and hand-eye co-ordination are assets for scoring from both close to and far from the net. His lack of a good playmaking game sharply limits how many points he can accumulate with the man advantage though. He hasn't been an especially dangerous forward for Montreal on the man advantage but he's more than good enough to form the basis of a 2nd unit with Gomez.

 

Spacek

Goals

Points

Games

Goals per Game

Points per Game

Goals per 60 minutes

Points per 60 minutes

Team Goals per 60 minutes

Minutes per Game

Last Season

0

3

59

0

0.05

0.00

2.29

5.35

1.33

Past 4 Seasons

10

45

273

0.04

0.16

0.81

3.67

7.11

2.69

 

A former major threat from the blueline, Jaroslav Spacek's powerplay ability went into immediate decline after moving to Montreal from Buffalo. His formerly strong shot has lost velocity and accuracy with age and he doesn't have the mobility to be dynamic from the back end. His only dangerous ability at this point is a strong passing ability but that is insufficient to be a good option with the man advantage. He may be used on the second unit as Weber and Yemelin acclimatize to the NHL but I wouldn't expect to see him there by the end of the season unless heavy injuries strike. If his decline continues and the rookie blueliner aren't ready then Josh Gorges may even be pressed into service as a stop gap.

 

Weber

Goals

Points

Games

Goals per Game

Points per Game

Goals per 60 minutes

Points per 60 minutes

Team Goals per 60 minutes

Minutes per Game

Last Season

0

4

41

0

0.10

0

3.17

7.13

1.85

Past 2 Seasons

0

5

44

0

0.11

0

3.34

6.67

2.05

 

The young Weber is a promising future power play quarterback. An excellent shot that has been terrorizing AHL goaltenders combined with good mobility and passing skills give Weber all the necessary tools to be good offensive contributor with the man advantage. He has never scored a regular season goal but has done it 3 times against Tim Thomas during the post season. With Roman Hamrlik and Wisniewski's departure expect him to be a fixture of the second power play unit this year in competition and collaboration with newcomer Alexei Emelin who scored an impressive 7 power play goals in 52 games last year in the KHL.

 

The Fill-ins

Montreal is in the enviable position of having an excess of options for the powerplay at forward. These are the players that either have shown good ability in limited minutes or are veteran players that have shown themselves to not have any particular talent for the man advantage.

 

Desharnias

Goals

Points

Games

Goals per Game

Points per Game

Goals per 60 minutes

Points per 60 minutes

Team Goals per 60 minutes

Minutes per Game

Last Season

4

7

43

0.09

0.16

3.05

5.33

8.38

1.83

Past Seasons

4

7

43

0.09

0.16

3.05

5.33

8.38

1.83

A team with less PP talent would be seriously looking at making room for David Desharnais on the man advantage. In a small sample size of limited minutes Desharnias has shown great potential as a power play forward. His superlative hockey IQ and puck skills are well suited to play in the offensive zoom where a relative lack of size and speed are less of a disadvantage. I would expect him to develop to the point of forcing the issue, perhaps at Gomez's expense.

 

Cole

Goals

Points

Games

Goals per Game

Points per Game

Goals per 60 minutes

Points per 60 minutes

Team Goals per 60 minutes

Minutes per Game

Last Season

3

8

82

0.04

0.10

0.85

2.27

4.83

2.58

Past 4 Seasons

21

34

275

0.08

0.12

1.62

2.65

5.73

2.82

 

While Erik Cole is an excellent even strength scorer he has shown little proclivity at producing with the man advantage. Then again, Carolina's power play has not been as strong as Montreal's, perhaps with the stronger unit he pushes out one of Kostitsyn or Gionta for a spot on the wings as a net presence. Given the abundance of options Montreal has, I think Cole may be the odd man out on the powerplay.

 

Darche

Goals

Points

Games

Goals per Game

Points per Game

Goals per 60 minutes

Points per 60 minutes

Team Goals per 60 minutes

Minutes per Game

Last Season

2

6

52

0.03

0.12

1.52

5.33

10.63

1.34

Past 4 Seasons

3

8

151

0.02

0.05

1.04

3.09

9.07

1.04

 

Mathieu Darche is another player that has done well in limited minutes on the Canadien's powerplay. His career numbers seem to show him as a player that good things happen around on the man advantage, whether that is from an ability to create time and space for his teammates or he has been the beneficiary of some hot streaks by better power play players is unclear. For Montreal he has been a decent net presence when Montreal has needed an extra body for the man advantage. He may return to that role if injuries strike but currently Montreal has a number of better players for that role. I would not expect him to see much ice on the powerplay next season.

 

Gorges

Goals

Points

Games

Goals per Game

Points per Game

Goals per 60 minutes

Points per 60 minutes

Team Goals per 60 minutes

Minutes per Game

Last Season

1

1

36

0.03

0.03

2.45

2.45

4.90

0.68

Past 4 Seasons

2

9

271

0.01

0.03

0.62

2.61

5.79

0.76

 

Gorges has occasionally seen powerplay time in Montreal when there hasn't been better options.  The results have been lackluster for the most part, with Gorges putting up little in the way of points. However, the unit as a whole did not unduly suffer from his presence and still scored at a respectable clip.  This well reflects Gorges' talents, he his competent to make and receive passes and mobile enough to shift formation with the rest of the team but has no real flair for the job. In the event of injuries to the backend, shifting Plekanec to the point and using Desharnais or Gomez more at center is probably a more optimal solution. He may get pressed into service at some point anyway if Spacek breaks down and Yemelin and Weber are not ready for powerplay responsibilities.

 

Campoli

Goals

Points

Games

Goals per Game

Points per Game

Goals per 60 minutes

Points per 60 minutes

Team Points per 60 minutes

Minutes per Game

Last Season

1

2

59

0.01

0.03

0.62

1.23

3.70

1.26

Past 4 Season

7

25

280

0.02

0.09

0.65

2.40

3.88

2.26

 

Chris Campoli is a supposedly offensive defenseman that has rarely done much on the powerplay, nothing on his stats line is better than the very pedestrian Gorges except from getting more minutes per game with the man advantage. Maybe playing on the very good Montreal man-advantage will result in a rebound, but from a stats standpoint it looks like there are better options for the Candiens.

 

 

Talent Usage: Concentrated or Distributed?

The Habs were about average in total powerplay time last season with 463:05 minutes on the man advantage (16th in the league) for 5.64 minutes per game. Assuming they have a similar amount of powerplay time next season they can probably expect to have their first unit of forwards average a bit below 3 minutes a game while the second unit is in the vicinity of 2 per game, depending on how evenly the minutes get divided. If the defense goes with playing Markov and Subban together heavily they could both take around 4 minutes a game with only scraps going to the other point men. If they play apart then the two units will also probably follow a primary unit getting 3 minutes and a secondary unit getting around 2 per game.

As there can only be two lines getting significant ice time per game, there must be a careful decision made of which of the 9 (10 including Lars Eller) candidates will play on the powerplay. I would consider loading up the best players into a single strong unit that plays over 3 minutes per game for the forwards and 4 minutes for the point men along the lines of:

Cammalleri-Plekanec-Pacioretty

Markov-Subban

With Markov on the left point, Subban the right, Cammalleri on the right half-wall, Pacioretty in front of the net and Plekanec roving from the high slot to behind the net as needed. This has the advantage of being the most likely to convert on power play opportunities and has all the classical elements of a successful power play (net presence, sniping winger, strong point shot and play making from both the points and down low).  7.5-8 goals per 60 minutes is an attainable figure for such a line, which with 3 minutes a game translates into 30-35 power play goals and about 6-7 goals and 20 points each.  After filling up the top line, the team has the depth to form a very competent 2nd unit based around Gomez and Gionta with Kostitsyn or Cole or Desharnais taking the final spot, with the extra defensive minutes taken by a combination of Spacek, Yemelin and Weber depending on who is in the lineup.

Another option is to keep together what look to be the main even strength lines by running out something like Cammalleri-Plekanec-Kostitsyn and Pacioretty-Gomez-Gionta as two relatively co-equal forward units. This puts out the best players slightly less often but involves less of a dislocation to the even strength forward lines. Both of these lines have a history of success on power play and look to be viable options going forward.

The big question is how the defense pairings will work, the question being whether Subban and Markov can be effective together. Markov usually plays with a left handed shot point shot so it's unknown if he can effectively set up the right handed Subban.  Also, Subban seems to prefer the left point over the right for the powerplay.  It remains to be seen if these are major obstacles to and effective partnership and weather the advantage of pairing two elite offensive defensemen together outweigh the loss of efficiency involved in using the two of them sub-optimally.

The prospect of having one of the league's best passing defensemen with one of the top powerplay shooters together is certainly intriguing. Markov and Subban together are one of the greatest concentrations of defenseman power play talent in the league. In the face of that, tactical considerations seem irrelevant.

If Subban and Markov can't work together then likely Markov will be paired with the left hand shooting Yemelin or Spacek while Subban works with Weber or Raphael Diaz on the other unit. This would result in having a high level offensive defenseman on for virtually every powerplay minute at the expense of concentrating talent for the best chance to score.

This is the essential conundrum of Montreal's powerplay going into the 2011-12 season, whether to concentrate talent in one strong unit and forming a lesser superlative but still competent 2nd formation, or to spread the best players across both. This question can be asked on paper but only can be resolved empirically with what is effective on the ice.

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