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Powerless: Finding the Canadiens’ ideal power-play alignments for the 2019-20 season

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In this conclusion to our series examining the Canadiens power play, we propose what the Habs should do and who they should send out there to do it.

Buffalo Sabres v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images

We come to the end of our series on the Montreal Canadiens’ power play, and it’s time to make conclusions based on what we’ve learned.

First and foremost, the Canadiens should continue to run a 1-3-1 formation, even though their primary weapon is a defenceman. However, they need to change the focal point of their offensive schemes to the half-wall rather than the point. This accomplishes three things: it promotes lateral movement to stretch the defenders; it incorporates the low players as viable threats rather than just rebound gatherers, and; it discourages the rotation between the one-timer-position and the point-position players.

First Unit (operates on the right side, one-timer on the left side)

Slot: Brendan Gallagher (R)

There were only two players who were a lock to be on the first unit, and Brendan Gallagher — on the strength of back-to-back 30-goal seasons — is one of them. However, he should not situate himself in his usual position on top of the goaltender’s pads. By moving up between the hashmarks, he makes himself a better passing option, lures defenders out of position, and can show off his underrated shot.

Goal line: Jonathan Drouin (L)

Truth be told, at least 90% of the complexity, for me, when plotting out an ideal Canadiens power play was what to do with Drouin. Immensely creative and armed with both shot and pass, Drouin can be placed as the central playmaker, the pointman, or even a targeted shooter. At the same time, he can be incredibly disruptive and individualistic, sowing confusion among his teammates and bringing the attack to a standstill. Ultimately, watching the example of Evgeny Kuznetsov’s play, I think Drouin is best served in the goal-line position.

Here, his passing prowess can find Gallagher in the slot or even Shea Weber across it. Drouin’s creativity can be used to tease defenders to chase him behind the net, and his stickhandling means that he should be able to succeed in tight spaces. Finally, he can rotate with the primary playmaker on the half-wall if necessary to disrupt the defensive structure without affecting the fundamentals of the Habs’ power-play structure.

At the same time, placing him near the goalline limits his ability to rag the puck, to dither with it as he weighs his options, or to attack the defensive structure single-handedly — in essence it protects the forward from himself. Even if he does something he shouldn’t, there is a vast difference in committing a turnover as the deepest man in versus committing one as the last man back.

Half-wall: Max Domi (L)

He has stiff competition from several others, but it can be argued that Domi is the best pure passer on the roster. Last year, his playmaking was left in the shadows because the power-play operated through the point position rather than the half-wall. Amusingly, this worked out to his benefit, as defenders now have to respect his shot even while he orchestrates the offence.

Point: Jeff Petry (R)

Another hard call. The point man needs to be a good distributor of the puck, a viable shooting threat, a solid defender, but also someone who understands that he is not the ringleader of the unit. Petry ticks off all of these boxes, especially as his right-handedness makes him a one-timer option for Domi. However, his inclusion on the top unit depletes the second unit.

One-timer: Shea Weber (R)

Not much needs to be said here. With Petry instead of Drouin at the point, Weber can hopefully be encouraged to venture deeper into the zone and be more adventurous with his off-the-puck movement in order to create passing lanes.

Alternative variant: If the Habs are insistent that Petry bring his talents and stability to the second unit, Drouin can return to the point position that he manned last year. For the unit to have success though, Drouin needs to understand that it runs through the half-wall, not the point, and accept that he is a supporter rather than a driver. Replacing Drouin at the goal line would be either Jordan Weal or Phillip Danault, both of whom bring faceoff prowess and a simple, direct way of creating offence.

Second Unit (operates on the left side, one-timer on the right side)

Slot: Joel Armia (R)

Armia found natural chemistry with Danault and Weal last season, and his physical presence, ability to shield the puck, and long reach make him ideal for setting up camp in the slot. One issue is that since the second unit has to operate from left to right to accomodate a left-handed one-timer, Armia is not a one-time option for the central playmaker.

Goal line: Phillip Danault (L)

Danault is an underrated passer, and his ability to keep things simple proved critical to speeding up a Canadiens power play that liked to sit on the puck last season. Being left-handed makes it difficult for him to walk out and challenge the crease on his forehand, however.

Half-wall: Jordan Weal (R)

Weal needs to be given a chance to prove that what he did last year was no fluke. That’s all that there is to it.

Point: Victor Mete (L)

Another difficult decision. Mete’s shot is far from feared (we’ll have to see the fruits of his off-season training), but he does possess the other qualities needed to play this position. If he makes a defensive error, he has the speed to make up for it.

One-timer: Artturi Lehkonen (L)

Wait ... what? But once upon a time, Artturi Lehkonen did things like this:

And this:

And this:

The kid’s clearly got a shot — perhaps the best one on the team from a player who isn’t already on the top unit. Given that Lehkonen has hockey sense in spades that he can use to find time and space, it’s time to give that shot a shot.

Alternative variants: The second unit is very flexible. Based on last year, Armia, Danault, and Weal have earned the first chance to make it work, but there are many players waiting in the wings. Jesperi Kotkaniemi can conceivably be positioned in any of the four non-point positions, and the same can be said of Tomas Tatar. Then there are the two rookies, Nick Suzuki and Ryan Poehling, who could make an impact. On the blue line, if Mete falters, Brett Kulak is more than capable of picking up the slack.

Final comments

Contrary to popular belief, the talent is there for the Canadiens. What is missing from the power play is a cohesive plan that can make the most of that talent — and a backup or two for when that plan doesn’t work. The Habs need to find a system and stick with it. As long as everyone understands what they are to do, the team’s depth offers more than enough pieces to cover for cold streaks or any injuries that may arise.