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Fixing Montreal's powerplay: Don’t pass it to the point

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Why avoiding a common play could help teams score more often on the man advantage

Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

After watching the Habs score two powerplay goals last Saturday against the Flyers, it occurred to me that the passing plays leading up to both tallies looked quite different than the pattern Montreal had been running for the past seasons. See for yourself:

Habitually (pun intended), it would be Markov quarterbacking the play and trying to find Subban open for a big slap shot, a play which is relatively easy to defend, as evidenced by Montreal’s subpar conversion rate on the man advantage since 2013. On the two goals against Philadelphia, whether by design or by coincidence, Max Pacioretty became the trigger man, one-timing the puck from a soft spot and letting linemates Parenteau and Desharnais mop up the rebounds. This was the go-to play back when Mike Cammalleri or Alexei Kovalev were the main shooting options on the powerplay.

Comparing the powerplay shot production of the three strongest PP units in the past season (Washington, Philadelphia and Boston) and that of three underachieving teams on the man advantage (Los Angeles, San Jose and Montreal), we can see that there is probably a link between forwards getting more shots on net and better overall outcomes.

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No matter the system, it would seem that powerplay shooting percentages for forwards are dramatically higher than that of defensemen. Your average number one defenseman may scores on one out of every 15 point shots, but your top-line forward usually only needs five or six shots to light the lamp. In this optic, it would be no surprise that sideboard specialists Alex Ovechkin (WSH), Claude Giroux (PHI), Sidney Crosby (PIT) and Steven Stamkos (TBL) are among the league's more valuable powerplay contributors year after year.

In business, you boost your bottom line by diverting resources to the areas offering the highest returns. Between having the shot coming from the blueline or the low slot, the choice is obvious. Having guys like Pacioretty, Galchenyuk, Parenteau and Plekanec handling and shooting the puck more often down-low may be a worthwhile long-term strategy. If anything, it may end up making Subban, Markov and Gonchar more effective. Witness the Habs' other powerplay goal on Saturday night.