The Montreal Canadiens are starting the season in historic fashion, sitting at the top of the NHL after 16 games. One of the major modifications that is supporting this early success is the significant improvement to a main weakness for the Habs last season: the power play.
In 2014-15, the Canadiens finished the season ranked 25th in the league with a dismal power play success rate of 16%. During the playoffs it was even worse, at 5.5% effectiveness, and most likely cost them a deeper run.
At the start of this season, Craig Ramsay was brought in to join the coaching brain trust, and head coach Michel Therrien re-assigned the power play coaching duties, transferring them from Dan Lacroix to JJ Daigneault after a disappointing showing, and early returns are very encouraging.
Although it took a few games (as witnessed in the volatility of the rolling average at the start of the season in the chart below), the Canadiens currently sit third in the league with a power play success rate of 27.3%; surpassing their success rate of 2013-14 when Gerard Gallant, the current head coach of the Florida Panthers, was responsible for the man-advantage unit.
But power play success on its own is not the only factor to the team's success this year on special teams. Montreal has also drawn more penalties so far (70, good for second in the league in this category) compared to this time last season (59).
If you combine increased opportunities with improved execution on the power play, this translates to a serious competitive advantage over other teams in the league.
Thankfully, the change in coaching responsibilities did not come at a detriment the penalty kill. The Habs sit fourth in the league with a PK% of 88.9%. Where the Habs need to improve is in the number of penalties taken. They are near the top of the table with 65 infractions (compared to the St. Louis Blues who lead the league with 74), and this indisciplined play forces the team to exert more effort defending against a man advantage, which is draining for players and can start causing problems late in the games.
If those discipline problems can be resolved, the Habs will be one of the hardest teams to play against in the league.