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A closer look at the Montreal Canadiens first power play goal of the season

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Montreal’s new set up is a definite improvement on power play strategies of the past.

NHL: JAN 13 Canadiens at Maple Leafs Photo by Julian Avram/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Montreal Canadiens ended the 2019-2020 NHL season with a paltry 17.7% power play percentage, ranking behind teams like the Coyotes, Sabres and Devils. It wasn’t the worst in the league but it definitely left a lot to be improved.

It looks like a lot has changed between last season and this one. The club’s new look power play had an immediate impact on opening night. Compared with the Canadiens’ power play set ups of the past, this season seems to emphasize a new strategy.

Montreal’s power play units moved away from their go to instinct to dump the puck in deep and chase it. Instead, the team is focused on something else: puck movement. The Canadiens were patient on the man advantage, using controlled zone entries to force Leafs defenders back.

Take a look at Montreal’s first power play goal. Tyler Toffoli hung onto the puck instead of immediately playing hot potato with it.

Once in the offensive zone, the Canadiens refused to stunt their momentum by wasting time standing around and waiting for the puck. They created their own chances, constantly skating and attempting more tape-to-tape passes to prevent the Leafs penalty units from settling in and getting comfortable.

On this play, look at the positioning of Toffoli, Drouin and Suzuki relative to Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen once the trio was in the offensive zone. Toffoli’s patience at the beginning of the play paid off, as it led to more opportunities for the team to get closer to the net before shooting, increasing their odds of scoring. Toffoli’s pass narrowly missed connecting with Drouin, bouncing off the winger’s skates.

Though Drouin wasn’t able to handle the pass, Shea Weber moved in from the blue line to control the puck, ensuring that the Canadiens maintained control of the puck.

Normally, at this point in a Canadiens power play, we’d expect the Habs captain to wind up for his legendary slap shot. But Weber decides to hang on to the puck and takes it deep within the Leafs zone, forcing all four Leafs back.

This constant movement with the puck will pay off when Weber attracts just enough of the Leafs attention to get a pass back through to a wide open Toffoli.

Weber’s wise decision now means that Toffoli, Petry and Suzuki have plenty of ice and only a scrambling Zach Hyman to manoeuvre around, creating a favourable 3-on-1 situation. Toffoli opts to pass the puck to Petry, who doesn’t have a blue jersey anywhere near his vicinity.

Petry also forgoes the opportunity to shoot a slap shot from the blue line. As with the rest of the Canadiens power play, he continues to skate with the puck in order to get closer to the net before taking his shot. His patience with the puck nearly results in Drouin tipping in the Canadiens first goal of the season.

Once again, because Petry decided to skate in before taking his shot, the Leafs penalty kill unit tried to compensate by closing in around Andersen in an attempt to clear any rebounds and box out Drouin from in front of their net. This meant that all eyes were on the puck and none were on Suzuki.

That decision would come back to bite the Leafs, when the puck ricocheted out. Toronto’s penalty kill unit was in full desperation mode when they realized Suzuki was going to pull the trigger on this shot.

Suzuki had no trouble banking in a tough angle shot to score the Canadiens first goal of the season.

In contrast to Montreal’s power play set ups of the past, a combination of patience, puck control and constant on-ice movement all played a part in getting the Canadiens on the board first on the man advantage.