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The Canadiens' powerplay has some problems

The Habs' powerplay has yet to score this season in 14 opportunities, but the problem is a lot deeper than that.

Use this guy more.
Use this guy more.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Canadiens have had 14 powerplays this season, and failed hilariously on most of them, while failing normally on the others. Going 0-for-14 really looks worse because it's to start the season, streaks like that happen to almost every team, but there's a lot more (or less, as it may be) going on while the Habs are on the powerplay than just not scoring.

Last year the Canadiens had a fairly mediocre powerplay overall, clicking at just 17.2%. However an extreme hot streak at the beginning of the year hides the fact that they were a lot worse than that for most of the season. Arpon Basu crunched some numbers quickly, and found some startling results.

Eliminating the Bruins' series is obviously picking and choosing what you're looking at, and not entirely fair, but the Habs do seem to have some special something against the Bruins on the powerplay, and outside that one series, they've been beyond ugly for 22 games.

Some things that the Canadiens are are doing wrong seem obvious, but I wanted to go back and take another look at the first four games of the season to make sure I wasn't just seeing things, or agreeing with crowds. I've never coached a powerplay, so it's tough for me to criticize the setups too conclusively, and I do believe there's more than one way to run a good powerplay. Smart decisions can make most strategies look good, not everyone needs to run a 1-3-1. What I did look at though, was what decisions were made, by whom, and what the players without the puck were doing.

Scouting the powerplay

When I reviewed all the powerplays the Canadiens have had so far this season, the main things I wanted to take note of were how efficiently they were using their top weapons. The Canadiens run a lot of their powerplay offense through the blueline, so one thing you want to make sure of is that you've got at least one-timer option available, because that's your best chance to score from the blueline. So I added up the time on each powerplay where neither defensemen was on his off sides, meaning he couldn't receive one-timers.

"Five of the Habs' 20 carry ins were followed by dumping the puck in for no reason, under little to no pressure, which means the majority of their powerplay entries were dump ins by an 18-15 margin, which is ridiculous"

I also wanted to count scoring chances, but not in the way we usually do. I wasn't worried about shot attempts really, I wanted to see how often the Canadiens' puck movement broke down the penalty killing strategy of opponents and produced a feasible chance to score for a player with the puck, even if no shot attempt took place, or the shot was blocked.

Montreal's strategy in gaining the zone is something I've been complaining about as well, so I tracked how often they carried the puck in versus dumped it in.

Outside of that, I wanted to track how many passes were made towards forwards, and how many towards defensemen, which should give us an idea of how much of the powerplay is run by each.

Finally, I tracked shots and shot attempts just for a frame of reference.

Breaking it all down

PP TOI

The most interesting part of looking at the powerplays again for me was looking at the lack of one-timer options from the blueline. The Canadiens are absolutely intent on running their offense on the powerplay through Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban, so it just doesn't make sense to play them conservatively. The startling thing was, the Canadiens have spent 58% of their powerplay time this season with no one-timer option available at the blueline.

This is ineffective at the best of times, but most of the time the Canadiens have had Markov and Subban on their off sides were two full powerplays, one against Philly, and one against Tampa, where they started on their off sides right off the face-off. It just so happens that those two powerplays were easily the best the Habs have had this season, generating a huge chunk of the chances to score they've had this season. Those four minutes accounted for 50% of the Canadiens' powerplay chances with six, while they only managed six in the 17.72 minutes they've had on the man advantage. Of those other 17.72 minutes, 71.1% of the time there was no one-timer option available.

The split in who was getting the chances to score was also pretty interesting, with defensemen getting a whopping 41.7% of all the chances to score, which to my mind is just way too high.

Although the Canadiens look to be dumping the puck in constantly on the powerplay, they're still carrying it in a majority of the time, with 20 of their 33 entries being carry ins. However five of the Habs' 20 carry-ins were followed by dumping the puck in for no reason, under little to no pressure, which means the majority of their powerplay entries were dup-ins by an 18-15 margin, which is ridiculous.

Little chips up the boards make sense if you're coming with speed, but the Canadiens aren't doing that; they're dumping to the corner and engaging in battles that they're losing a lot of. It's not an efficient play at even strength, and it's borderline mindless on the powerplay.

Obviously we don't have data from the other 29 teams to see how they run their entries on the powerplay, but just looking at Tampa Bay and Philadelphia - two powerplays that messed the Habs up pretty well - they just don't dump the puck in. They come at the blueline with speed, usually staggering attackers with passing options coming with more speed than the puck carrier to pressure defenses and create passing options as soon as the puck is onside.

As far as passing goes, one thing I noticed constantly is that there's very little movement. Almost 30% of all passes were back-and-forths between two players, with the other three Habs just watching, and not getting into better positions. The defensemen did receive more passes than the forwards, 102 to 89, but again, we can't really compare this with other teams. The main thing I noticed throughout the powerplays was that in 21.7 minutes and change, there was just a single clean pass to an uncovered player in the slot, in game one against Toronto with Andrei Markov streaking in, but the puck hopped over his stick.

Something we can actually compare

Shot attempts are the basic stat now, in the analytics world. One of the new new statistics that we can compare over different years. Thus far, the Canadiens are firing 93.94 pucks towards the net every 60 minutes of powerplay time, which sounds like a lot, but would have ranked them 20th overall in the league last season, exactly where they finished in 13-14.

What's more troubling than that however, is that the Habs are only getting 33.15 shots on net per 60 minutes played on the powerplay, which would rank them 9.15 shots per 60 minutes lower than the worst powerplay team in the NHL in 13-14, it's straight up ghastly.

Four games isn't much to draw conclusions from with data, but the overarching theme here is that the Habs aren't doing what needs to be done to score on the powerplay. Fortunately for them, the Boston Bruins are in town to open the Bell Centre's 2014-15 season, and they can hope that the special powerplay magic they usually have against Boston gets them going, but for the other 28 teams, some changes need to be made strategically, and it's pretty obvious.