The Montreal Canadiens are seemingly tying every possible combination on their power play to find a solution to their struggles. A lot of players have taken turns on the first unit to try to jumpstart the special teams to at least push it into respectability. But it hasn’t really happened as of yet despite the efforts of the coaching staff.
Nothing says a new configuration with Jonathan Drouin walking the goal line will be the key to finding success on the man advantage for the Habs (the track record of the previous changes certainly doesn’t inspire much confidence), but it is something different enough from what was previously tried to make it interesting.
Drouin has always automatically been placed on the halfwall due to his passer identity. He’s a player who can thread the needle to find his teammates through the defence. He has been effective in that role before, but this year it simply hasn’t worked out for the talented forward.
The NHL, and hockey as a whole, is always evolving. We have seen power-play strategies that rely on passes from below the goal line to multiple shooting threats above (a good example of it is Switzerland at the World Junior Championship). The advantage of this configuration is that it’s really hard for the defence, and especially the opposing goalie, to keep track of opposing players that are often completely behind them. Plus, having a playmaker at the goal line also reduces the length of the passes needed to reach teammates in and around the slot.
In this switch of strategy for the Habs, there are also more responsibilities given to Jordan Weal, who has emerged as quite the skilled player with his new team. He can pilot the half-wall surprisingly well, hold the puck, and escape pressure with it. Most importantly, he has shown that he can create scoring chances in his limited stint there.
The second goal of the game against the New York Islanders was testament to that. Weal found Joel Armia for his first goal on the power play — not just this season, but ever in his NHL career. He looked off his target, stick-handled deceptively, and reached the Finnish right-handed shooter with a precise pass.
The fact that both Weal and Armia are right-handed was helpful in that scenario. Armia had his stick on Weal’s side of the ice, which made for a shorter pass with an easier angle for the new acquisition and a quicker release for Armia. But as great as Weal’s feed was, Drouin, from his new position, also played an important role in that goal.
The simple fact that Drouin represents a threat on the power play has opponents pay extra attention to him and be mindful of where he is at all times.
The defender closer to Weal (Adam Pelech) cheated with his stick, directing it toward Drouin even though the Habs winger represented a lesser threat than Armia in the middle of the ice. It opened the passing lane for Weal and the shot for Armia.
The two consecutive power plays the Habs were awarded at the end of the first period weren’t perfect sequences. The same old issues plagued the team: the fact that they had trouble getting in the zone cleanly, and recovering loose pucks. But when they did get possession and set themselves in their designated spots, there were some sparks, and a goal. Encouraging signs.
Maybe this time, with an arguably more innovative strategy, the Habs have found a successful (enough) recipe for success.