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Micro Analysis: The power play killed the Canadiens in Dallas

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With five chances up a man, Montreal failed to seize the advantage.

Montreal Canadiens v Dallas Stars Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Power-play Entries

There was a sequence at the end of the first period where the Montreal Canadiens successively missed not one, not two, but five consecutive zone entries. Sometimes the other team defends you well, but failing to enter the zone with control so many times in a row can only be attributed to a lack of focus.

Here’s the typical flow of a generic power-play entry:

  • One forward skates up ahead of the rush to push back the defence. He stops at the blue line to be an option for a kickoff pass.
  • Another player carries the puck up the ice with the rest of the formation. Sometimes the puck is dropped to a trailing, speedy forward to further take advantage of a pushed-back defence; other times the group tries to enter together.
  • The trick is to fake the neutral-zone defence into turning their attention and their sticks toward one side of the ice to open the other for a clean entry, or to create a mini two-on-one with speed against a defender at the line to force him to give up the blue line.

Almost none of the above elements were executed well last night by the Habs. The puck-carrier, no matter who he was, consistently made the wrong decision as he skated up, and players away from the puck lacked the proper timing or skating route to support the transition.

Here’s a video breaking down the multiple failed entries that occurred during this specific first period power play:

I would also understand, however, if you preferred to not watch the video and simply never think about the whole sequence ever again.

The importance of moving while the puck is one pass away

Unfortunately, the problems with the power play didn’t stop once possession was clearly established in the offensive zone. Players were once again late in their movements.

In the first sequence below. Max Domi receives the puck on the opposite half-wall and looks to connect with Tomas Tatar with the open cross-ice pass, but Tatar reacts a second too late and doesn’t reach the right position in time. The pass escapes him.

The left-winger has some sniping ability, and it was a perfect occasion for a catch-and-release shot.

In the second clip, Jordan Weal brings the puck to the goal line and slides it to the front of the net. Nick Cousins tries to bang it in, but the puck escapes and slides to his left, resting for a second in front of a deserted cage. Jonathan Drouin, a step too far, couldn’t hit it in, only trying an ineffective backhand swipe at it.

Timing is everything on the power play. Passes need to be crisp, but more than that players have to be in the right position to take advantage of them.

Even if he is still a freshman in college, Cole Caufield is a great example of someone who understands the importance of moving into the right spot while the puck is still one pass away.

The little rubber disk moves faster than anyone’s feet, so it isn’t possible to catch up to it. You have to be ready to receive ahead of time, and that means preemptively moving while the play is still being set up — often one pass before the pass you will receive.

Watch Caufield (#8 in red in the bottom of the screen) anticipate the play in the video above. He starts to stride into position as the puck begins to move toward the player that hits him with the cross-ice pass. He arrives just in time for a one-timer.

He could have stood still in the spot, but that would make it easy on the defence to cover him. The pass wouldn’t have been nearly as deceptive.

Overall, the power play of the Habs has been much improved this season. Off-nights happen and this isn’t a cause for concern yet. This game can serve as a reminder that last year’s troubles aren’t far away and there is still work necessary to completely erase the bitter memories.

Carey Price’s puck-moving

This game’s result can’t be blamed on Carey Price. On top of making key saves, the goalie was probably the Habs’ best puck-mover.

I never get tired of watching him handle the puck and make a pass up the ice precisely, despite equipment that is really not made for such purposes. Not only can Price make as hard and as clean a feed as any regular NHL defenceman, he also uses some of the same tricks to misdirect the forecheck.

He lets the puck rest on his blade for a second and waits for opponents to get close, then wraps it behind his own net to a defenceman. He also commonly fakes using a passing lane to one side before sending it into open space in the complete opposite direction, leaving opponents to circle back to catch up to the play.

Those tricks are complemented by very fast reads. Price doesn’t hesitate to get out of his net even if opponents are a few feet away; he knows he can win the race to the puck. His rapid execution to beat a first forechecker makes the life of his blue-liners a lot easier.

Here is a compilation of Price moving the puck from last night.