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Montreal Powerplay Project Part 1: Introduction and Individual Performances

The Montreal Canadiens powerplay was an issue for them throughout the 2018-19 season and likely cost them a place in the playoffs. Their powerplay finished the year 30th in the NHL with 4.92 goals for per 60 minutes (GF/60) on the powerplay, which to put into context, an average NHL team generates 7 GF/60 on the powerplay. The powerplay showed minimal improvement in terms of results as the season progressed through the final 31 games post all-star break, operating at 13.699 per cent on 73 powerplays over that sample of games. To try and break down their toothless powerplay, I tracked the break-outs and zone entries of all the powerplays during this period on both the team and individual levels. I focused on their break-outs and zone entries because their ability to set up and establish possession in the offensive zone quickly and effectively is key to being able to have enough time to move the puck around the offensive zone to generate quality scoring chances and goals. This is a relatively small sample in 73 powerplays, but there are still some interesting takeaways from analyzing the data.

To do this I broke down their break-outs into four categories: full carry outs and/or only forward passing, drop passes before their blue line, drop passes after their blue line but before the red line, and drop passes after the red line. Full carry outs and/or only forward passing captures breakouts where the puck only moves forwards during the transition from the defensive zone to the neutral zone. Drop passes involve a player intentionally passing the puck backwards to a moving player. From these categories I tracked the resulting zone entries, breaking those down into three categories: was it a dump-in, carry-in, or did they fail to enter the offensive zone. Carrying in the puck is riskier in terms of turnovers at the blue line but is better at establishing control in the offensive zone, so I believe this to be the superior zone entry despite its risks. Whereas dump-ins are safer but make it easier for penalty killers to clear the puck before the offensive team can establish control in the zone. The results of these macro team results will be the subject of part two of my autopsy of the Canadiens powerplay in the later part of the 2018-19 season. This first article will be devoted to individual players performances on powerplay zone entries, beginning with the forwards.

#

Name

Carry Attempt

Carry Success

Dump-In Attempt

Dump-In Success

Carry Success %

Dump-In Success %

92

Drouin

26

23

14

9

88.45

64.29

24

Danault

8

8

3

1

100

33.33

11

Gallagher

10

9

4

2

90

50

90

Tatar

17

15

4

3

88.24

75

13

Domi

38

26

4

3

68.42

75

62

Lehkonen

1

0

0

0

54

Hudon

1

1

0

100

15

Kotkaniemi

12

10

4

2

83.34

50

40

Armia

11

10

3

2

90.91

66.67

41

Byron

10

10

2

2

100

100

65

Shaw

8

8

100

0

22

Weise

1

1

100

0

43

Weal

8

7

2

1

87.5

50

Forwards

The forwards not shown here either did not play on the powerplay or did not attempt a single zone entry if they did. A successful carry-in or dump-out is one where the team maintains possession (either through stickhandling or a good forecheck) through the zone entry and thus has the opportunity to set up their powerplay. According to Andrew Berkshire, based on Sportlogiq’s tracking data league average for carry-in success rate is 64.9 per cent, which you can use as a baseline when looking at the tables. As well, in theory dump-ins should be less successful in terms of maintaining possession, so its baseline rate is likely lower. In terms of volume, Max Domi was the stand-out at carrying the puck into the offensive zone, while Jonathan Drouin stood out in terms of success rate while carrying the puck into the zone at a high volume. No forward attempted many dump-ins on the powerplay other than Drouin, but when they had to turn to it, they were quite successful over very small sample sizes. However, these success rates are not accomplished in a vacuum and these players take up certain roles that dictate their volume of zone entry attempts and success rates on those attempts.

I have divided the forwards into primary, secondary and tertiary options based on my observations of their role on powerplay zone entries. This was not solely based on the volume of attempts or their success rate on their attempts, but rather it was focused on the specific tasks each player fulfilled while the Canadiens tried to enter the offensive zone on the powerplay.

The primary option forwards would take the puck from the defensive zone, off of early drop passes or regroups in the neutral zone and are the main players who were looked at to bring the puck into the offensive zone and set up the powerplay. Drouin fulfilled this role on the first powerplay unit with great speed on his feet and in his stickhandling. He was quite successful as he attempted the second most carry-in attempts and did so with an 88.45 per cent success rate on them. Domi took on the primary zone entry responsibly on the second powerplay unit with a speed approach, while he his stickhandling was much looser than Drouin’s and may have contributed to his lower success rate carrying the puck into the offensive zone. Furthermore, Domi may have attempted the most carry-ins, but this may have been a result of his lower success rate at 68.42 per cent. Finally, when he was featured on the first powerplay unit Jesperi Kotkaniemi would often go back to retrieve the puck from the defencemen or on early drop passes and assume the primary zone entry role if Drouin was unable and he used his strong stickhandling without stellar speed to be effective on carry-ins. Kotkaniemi achieved an 83.34 per cent success rate on carry-ins as the third primary zone entry option. Also, these three rarely dumped the puck into the offensive zone, preferring to pass the puck to secondary or tertiary zone entry options, but Drouin did attempt 14 dump-ins at a 64.29 per cent success rate. Overall, Drouin’s success stands out, while Domi was less impressive but was asked to carry a large load on the second powerplay unit. The data also indicates that Kotkaniemi could be given more opportunities to perform zone entries and set up the powerplay based on his strong performance on a lower volume of attempts.

The secondary options would take dump-off passes (defined by me as either horizontal or neutral zone forward passes) or late (past the Canadiens blue line) drop passes from primary options in the neutral zone. Tomas Tatar, Jordan Weal and Paul Byron made up the secondary group of Canadiens forwards. Tatar used strong stickhandling and protected the puck well as he often received dump-offs in the neutral zone from Domi on the second unit and ended up with an 88.24 per cent carry-in rate. After returning from a wrist injury Byron was a great addition to the second powerplay unit using his excellent speed to skate past penalty killers and gain the zone with the puck on his stick, going ten for ten on carry-ins. Weal was also a useful addition to the powerplay as he used his strong skating ability to receive dump-offs and neutral zone drop-passes on the first powerplay unit to go 7 for 8 on carry-in zone entries. Tertiary option forwards such as Brendan Gallagher, Phillip Danault, Joel Armia and Andrew Shaw would receive the puck on the boards at the opposing blue line after other players were met by strong resistance at the opposing blue line. The tertiary options would then have to take these passes and shield the puck along the boards to enter the zone. The fact these players received the puck with little space left to cover before entering the offensive zone contributes to their strong success rates on carry-ins, but they all were able to seal off the puck and get it over the blue line with control to then pass the puck off to other playmakers. Overall, the secondary and tertiary options were placed in positions to succeed on powerplay zone entries because primary options would draw in the attention of opposing penalty killers and then pass them the puck with more space and less ice to cover to enter the zone. Therefore, while their success rates are still impressive, they are skewed by what they were being asked to do.

Defencemen

#

Name

Carry Attempt

Carry Success

Dump-In Attempt

Dump-In Success

Carry Success %

Dump-In Success %

53

Mete

3

0

0

0

6

Weber

5

4

6

2

80

33.33

28

Rielly

3

1

10

5

33.33

50

26

Petry

11

11

10

4

100

40

17

Kulak

1

0

0

0

The Canadiens preferred four forward, one defencemen powerplay units (other than the period early on in my sample where Jeff Petry and Mike Rielly both featured on the second powerplay unit) and generally defencemen were far less involved in zone entries on the powerplay, but they did tend to dump the puck in more when they were involved. A primary option defencemen like Jeff Petry or Mike Rielly (while he was in the lineup) from my observations carried the puck out of the defensive zone and would try to dump the puck off to a forward in the neutral zone, carry the puck all the way into the offensive zone or dump the puck into the offensive zone once they crossed over the red line. Petry was a stand out on the second unit once he eschewed dumping the puck into the zone (which he had a low success rate with) and was a perfect eleven for eleven on carry-ins. Rielly was capable of carrying the puck out of the defensive zone, but struggled with decision making when it came to breaking the puck into the offensive zone, tending to pass the puck off too late or dump the puck in with average at best results. Shea Weber was the only real secondary option as a defencemen and he got most of his attempts on regroups and dump-offs where he would then hammer the puck into the offensive zone for a forechecking forward on the opposite wing to retrieve. Victor Mete and Brett Kulak also had attempts, but they had too little powerplay ice time to be much of a factor or reveal any patterns in their performance. Although based on his skillset, Mete could be able to use his strong skating to carry the puck into the zone in a similar role to the one Jeff Petry performed.

Conclusion

Overall, the Canadiens individual performances in terms of zone entries were quite good compared to the league average for teams on carry-in zone entries. There is an argument for Brendan Gallagher and Paul Byron to move up a rung and become secondary and primary zone entry options respectively based on their success in their current roles. Furthermore, Byron may be an option to take over a primary role on zone entries given his skill set and success after he came back from injury, while Jesperi Kotakniemi could also be looked at for more attempts in a primary role. Max Domi was merely average in a primary role on zone entries and could move down to a secondary role to make way for Byron or Kotkaniemi’s increased role. Finally, Jeff Petry’s performance adds another feather to his cap in a very good 2018-19 season, while Jonathan Drouin’s heavy load on the first powerplay was carried well in terms of zone entries and should be seen as positive element he brings to the Canadiens powerplay, despite his disappointing performance as the main powerplay quarterback on one of the leagues worst powerplay teams. Perhaps Drouin can stay on the first powerplay as the main zone entry forward, but he should use his passing ability to move the puck quickly to another playmaker to lead the powerplay (maybe they move Max Domi onto his unit or give Kotkaniemi more control). Although these individual results seem promising, I must add that I do not know if their individual attempts are high, which may contribute to the team’s struggles on the powerplay because if the puck needs to enter the zone a lot it must be getting cleared by penalty killers a lot. In the second part of the Montreal Powerplay Project I will focus on the team level results on break-outs and zone entries.

Goals for per 60 statistics were retrieved from Corsica Hockey




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