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Reasons for the Montreal Canadiens' failed season: The power play

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Is the power play responsible for the debacle that was the 2015-16 season?

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

The Montreal Canadiens failed to make the playoffs because they didn't score enough goals, and they allowed too many. An insultingly obvious idea, perhaps, but one for which a solution could not be found over the final five months of the campaign.

One area that needs improvement is the ineffable power play, and that's one of the areas that may have hurt their chances.

Most of the time we evaluate a team's performance with five-on-five play because it's a better indicator of the future success in the post-season. Last year, San Jose was an obvious exception to that: they went to the Stanley Cup Final with a power-play efficiency above 20%. Yes, they ended up losing, but I can't blame them for that. Being in the Final nowadays is a feat by itself. Unfortunately for the Sharks, the Pittsburgh Penguins played a disciplined series, and fewer opportunities to use that prowess exposed the Sharks weaker even-strength game, and they ran out of gas.

Nonetheless, a good power play is something to strive for. It helps you get into the playoffs.

The Canadiens won 20 of the 35 games in which the were able to score a power-play goal; good for a .571 win percentage. The inability to generate offence when there is more room could be an indication that: a) players lack talent, b) players lack creativity, c) the system hinders those first two areas, and/or d) the coaching staff can't adjust.

Last season, the Habs scored just 42 goals in 259 opportunities (both five-on-four and five-on-three) for a meagre 16.2% conversion rate,  good for 25th place. How bad are those numbers? Well, the Habs were 13th in power-play opportunities and yet they were 23rd in terms of total power-play goals. They scored only three of those at five-on-three. I couldn't find the total number of opportunities, but they spent only 4:16 with a two-man advantage: the fifth-lowest amount in the entire league.

Let's see how their production was split:

PP Goals in a game Occurrences
3 1
2 5
1 29
0 47

So they scored their 42 power-play goals in 35 games. Let's look at the results per month:

GP Opportunities PPG PP%
October 12 42 10 23.8
November 13 46 11 23.9
December 14 41 4 9.7
January 11 43 5 11.6
February 13 35 7 20.0
March 15 39 3 7.7
April 4 13 2 15.4

The team results plummeted during that dreadful two months after Carey Price went down for good. How can Price be related to that? Maybe it will be part of his upcoming contract negotiation. His agent should point out his contribution on the Habs' power play.

Here are the sequences.

Sequence of games 2 3 4 5 6 7
With a least a powerplay goal 5 0 0 1 0 1
With no goal on powerplay 7 1 1 1 1 1

From the end of October to the beginning of November, the Habs had a seven-game streak with at least a powerplay goal. It was bound to regress, but I never thought it would be so bad. In December, they went the opposite way with a streak of seven without scoring.

Let's look at their power-play shooting and conversion rates, to see how they stacked up against the other teams:

Habs Rank League avg League med Std dev
Goals for/60min 5.83 25 6.65 6.53 0.96
Fenwick for/60min 69.4 18 72.7 72.8 7.2
Shot for/60min 47.9 23 51.9 51.6 4.6
Shooting percentage 12.2 20 12.8 12.4 1.7
Save percentage 85.1 29 90.6 90.8 3.8
O-zone faceoff percentage 74.1 28 77.4 76.9 2.5

There was not a big difference between the Habs results and the league in most cases. If the Habs would have met the league average in terms of Goals for per 60 minutes of power-play time, they would have scored only six more goals over the entire season.

All of this for that. Yes, the power play's poor performance kind of killed the show on more than one evening, but it was not  the main culprit. If we compare those six extra goals to the 28 allowed by the poor goaltending, it's obvious that the power play should not be the first organizational concern.

Just looking at the table above, Montreal's goaltending during the power-play was almost last in the league. If they had those six extra power-play goals and allowed 28 fewer goals with average goaltending, the season goal differential would have jumped from -15 to +19. That would represent more that enough to qualify for the playoffs.

Why the power play failed

While the six-goal increase is with a rise to average man-advantage production, why aim for the middle of the pack and not for the top? What could be done to improve the power play?

I have no numbers to point to a solution. I would have to look at a lot of video and get numbers for zone entries/exits and the high-danger scoring chance generation. That could definitely point toward a system failure. It won't be fixed by replacing a big slap shot from the point (P.K. Subban) with a bigger slap shot from the point (Shea Weber).

The lack of shot generation is an important factor. Cycling the puck around the zone is of no use if no one moves to a scoring area and no hole opens up in the coverage. Those board passes are low risk, with low reward.

My delirium

The deployment should be reviewed. The emergence of Alex Galchenyuk might push some other players, such as David Desharnais, away from the first power-play wave.

Galchenyuk as an elite shooter. He should be paired with another playmaker to distribute the puck and leave him to use his snap shot. I would even dare to suggest to put Max Pacioretty on the second wave. Galchenyuk - Brendan Gallagher - Alexander Radulov - Andrei Markov - Weber would be the first wave, with Tomas Plekanec - Pacioretty- Artturi Lehkonen - Nathan Beaulieu - Jeff Petry occupying the second unit, with some turns between crease patrollers Andrew Shaw and Daniel Carr.

The Canadiens have the pieces to create good, maybe even great, special teams units. It's just a matter of putting them together and letting the players use their skills.