It isn't exactly a secret that the Canadiens power play has struggled for some time. Interestingly enough, the last time it was any good was when Kirk Muller was behind the bench. Well, he's back, and he has some new toys to play with when it comes to structuring a man advantage.
The big piece he'll probably have some fun with is the incoming Shea Weber, the man who boasts arguably the hardest shot in the world. The loss of P.K. Subban hurts for sure, but with Muller pulling the strategy strings, they have all the pieces to form some very dangerous units. So, what will those look like?
The first unit
I will go ahead and call Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk as locks for the first wave. They both have accurate shots with deceptive release points, and Galchenyuk is also a very accomplished passer. They work together very well at even strength, so it just makes sense to let them loose with the man advantage.
Who plays on the right is an interesting debate. Brendan Gallagher is an obvious candidate, and I have already mentioned that I like him to skate on their right wing at even strength. However, there is a strong argument to put Alexander Radulov here.
Gallagher has the edge in terms of his ability to screen the goaltender and pounce on rebounds. Radulov figures to be a bit of a better passer, and can create real problems with his shot from further out. I think Radulov has the edge, but it is a very close race by my estimation.
On defence, I think it is pretty clear that Andrei Markov and Shea Weber should be on this unit. At even strength I don't think they are fast enough together to work, but put them in a man advantage situation and there should be fireworks.
Other options could be Nathan Beaulieu or Jeff Petry. Beaulieu probably holds an edge as a left shot, but there are many who believe that having two right handed shots opens up intriguing options in the passing game. It will be up to Kirk Muller in the end, but my money is on Markov to hold down the left side.
I therefore see a first unit that looks something like this.
Max Pacioretty - Alex Galchenyuk - Brendan Gallagher/Alexander Radulov
Andrei Markov - Shea Weber
The second unit
I have already mentioned that I really like the chances of both Daniel Carr and Artturi Lehkonen to make the team. Both have scoring touch, and Lehkonen is an extremely accomplished passer. I check my best options as being one of those two on the left side.
In the middle, it is hands down Tomas Plekanec, much like at even strength. Maybe they like David Desharnais better, but I really do not see Muller overlooking what Plekanec brings to the table. He has worked with Muller before, and it should work again. I call him a lock for the second wave.
On the right, I think we're looking at whoever doesn't get selected for the first wave, so Gallagher or Radulov. This is where Radulov might get the edge for the first wave. If Lehkonen makes the team, and gets put on this second unit, they will need a net-front presence. Enter Gallagher, someone we know to be very capable of providing that.
If Carr gets put on that unit, he fills the need for a net presence, and then it would potentially be better to have Radulov. The latter is also pretty good at getting to the net, for what it's worth. Again, plenty of options for Muller to choose from.
On defence, I would love to see Nathan Beaulieu with Jeff Petry. That forms a speedy back end, which offers a different dynamic than the more calculated Weber/Markov pairing on the first wave. Either can come down from the point to collapse towards the net, while the other gets back in case of a breakdown.
The only wrench in the spokes of my idea there is if they elect to use Beaulieu with Weber, in which case it seems obvious that Markov would skate to the left of Petry. As such, my choice second unit would look something like this.
Daniel Carr/Artturi Lehkonen - Tomas Plekanec - Brendan Gallagher/Alexander Radulov
Nathan Beaulieu/Andrei Markov - Jeff Petry
The biggest part of the equation is Kirk Muller. He is well known as a power play mastermind, so they won't be nearly as much of a paper tiger that they have been in recent years. I'd get into systematic options, but the simple fact is that I have a whole lot of faith in his ability to handle that.
And a dangerous power play would be huge for the Canadiens. With a healthy Carey Price, all they really need to do is provide the run support, and the best way to do that is on the power play. It is arguably the one thing in their recent successful seasons that prevented them from being true contenders.
One thing I feel very confident in predicting is that the power play will get better. I am excited, and I think that most Habs fans should be.