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Micro Analysis: Nick Suzuki’s work on the Canadiens’ power play

Montreal’s man advantage has been rising recently, and Suzuki’s skill is a big reason why.

Montreal Canadiens v Edmonton Oilers Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

At this point, maybe this series ought to be called “Nick Suzuki Analysis.” It feels like there is always something new or interesting in the rookie’s game, each article becoming a chapter of his development.

Today, it’s his power-play impact, obviously focusing on his beautiful feed to Tomas Tatar late in the first period. The play immediately boosted a flat Montreal Canadiens squad. From that moment, the team took control of the game.

Suzuki started the season on the power play. He acted as the triggerman on his off-side, a one-timer option for Max Domi or Jonathan Drouin across the ice. But he wasn’t in a spot to maximize his talent. This sequence against the Jets, where Suzuki found himself in this same spot after a change, gives insight into why.

Stick positioning matters. At the left faceoff circle (from the attacking team’s perspective), Suzuki has to handle the puck with his blade in the middle of the ice. As defenders can more easily reach it with pokechecks, he can’t really dangle anyone. He also has to turn and bring the puck completely behind him to pass across. That all changed in November when he was moved to the other side of the ice.

The rookie belongs on the half-wall to the left of the goalie. It allows him to better protect the puck — his body stands between it and defenders — and the position enables deception.

As he skates from the top of the zone to the faceoff circle, he places himself in a spot where he can pass, shoot, or dangle with a flick of the wrist. Defenders have to respect all three options. If they overextend to block a play, they leave another one open for the triple-threat rookie.

It’s what happened on the power-play goal. Blake Wheeler tried to block a shot that Suzuki never intended to fire. Wheeler instead saw the puck slide under his stick toward a great catch-and-release shooter, Tatar.

As Suzuki gets more and more comfortable directing an NHL power play, we should see him shooting more, fulfilling this triple-threat identity even better. Beating a few goalies cleanly from the faceoff circle is definitely a possibility for him. He did it in Junior, and his release is sufficiently masked and precise to also fool the top goalies in the world.

Nick Suzuki wore #37 with the Owen Sound Attack

The first few sequences in the video above are taken from Suzuki’s Owen Sound days. On the half-wall, when he moved with the puck toward the net, all options were open for him. He picked corners or sent the puck laterally to teammate just as effectively. Those sequences are starting to mirror the NHL ones.

With a potential injury to Joel Armia, it could be time to try Suzuki back with Max Domi. It didn’t work the first couple of times, but now that every puck Domi touches turns into a goal, the story might be different. The rookie could better mesh with a highly confident version of his previous partner— at center or on the flank. Change is often easier to accept when not in a drought.

Another factor that might make the pairing work is Domi using his speed much more effectively in recent games.

Domi aggressively attacks defenders. Off the rush, his superior skating get him on top of them in a second. He moves the puck inside their sticks and skates, where they can’t track it, and accelerates back in front of them the other way to best nullify any play they could make to stop him. This change of pace for Domi, on the ice and on the scoresheet, is a welcomed one as the forward injury list likely continues to expand.