clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Canadiens have cracked the code during the powerplay

The Habs didn't score on the powerplay in Game 5, but they are finally doing all the right things.

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

The final score of Saturday's game was, of course, a big relief. But there are also other things to be excited about from Montreal's perspective.

After switching from a traditional 3-2 spread powerplay (with two point men and three forwards cycling down low) to a 1-3-1 setup used to good effects by Washington, Philadelphia and the NY Rangers last season, the Canadiens have not really experienced the type of uptick in powerplay efficiency most fans would have expected from the outset.

P.K. Subban is getting some better looks and has scored more one-timer goals from the point in 2014-15 than in 2013-14, but as the whole, the unit isn't doing as well as it should given the level of talent the Canadiens can ice on a 5-on-4.

However, in Game 5, the Habs moved the puck quickly and smartly on the powerplay. For the first time in recent memory, they made full use of the possibilities offered by the 1-3-1 formation and created both a quantity and a quality of scoring chances.

Focus 1: Off the controlled zone entry

Two weeks ago, I talked briefly about the importance for a team on the powerplay to use their zone entries as a way to create openings. The Habs did just that in the second period of Game 5.

Max Pacioretty carries the puck through the neutral zone and sees that the Lightning players on the ice are sitting back. One thing they've been guilty of since Game 3 is "sagging" a bit too much in the neutral zone, which allows Montreal to carry the puck over the Tampa blue line more frequently.

Pacioretty takes what is given to him, and finds Tomas Plekanec on the other side of the ice with a hard pass.

The Tampa penalty killers are moving backwards as a group and are not settled into their D-zone coverage just yet. Plekanec takes advantage and threads a second pass through the PK box.

Meanwhile, no one has eyes on P.A. Parenteau, who is standing by himself across from the Royal Road (orange line).

Pacioretty sees PAP and makes a third cross-ice pass in less than three seconds for the Habs.

Parenteau has a glorious chance out front and barely misses beating Ben Bishop, who has to slide across his crease to make the save.

Already in full panic mode, Tampa will chase the puck for a while after the near-goal.

Eventually the puck will go back to Jeff Petry at the point and he'll feed P.K. Subban for a good one-timer attempt.

Focus 2: Jeff Petry - the Enabler

Speaking of Petry, he has been a great addition to Montreal's first powerplay unit alongside Subban. For the first time, it gives the Habs a versatile, right-handed defenseman to play the all-important concierge role on the 1-3-1.

From the right point (and not the left, where the coaching staff initially had him), Petry is called upon to hold the fort defensively, and to distribute the puck - to Subban at the left point for the one-timer or to a forward at the right sideboards.

If he does his job right, he shouldn't be shooting the puck all that much. Most likely, he'll be getting second assists, or no credit at all on the scoreboard.

That's why I call him the concierge. It's an important, if somewhat thankless job.

Subban has just passed the puck to Petry and the American winds up for a big slap shot, causing Tampa players to converge on him.

But that's not a really good place to shoot from. He's far from the net, he doesn't have a good angle and Bishop is unscreened. If he takes the shot now, it is also unlikely any Habs player will be first on the rebound.

Petry make a smart play and fakes the slapper instead. Now, the Tampa PK box is all the way in the corner of the ice.

The four defenders will have to hustle to get back into the middle of the ice, which means open lanes for lateral passes.

Petry ends up pivoting to his backhand side, which gives Tampa some time to get set. They look to be in decent shape here.

Still, Boyle can't get all the way up to the point, which allows Petry to pass off to Alex Galchenyuk at the right half-wall.

In the next few years, we should be seeing Galchenyuk make a solid living on the powerplay, quarterbacking the action from this spot.

From the half-wall, he is a triple threat. He could either go cross-ice, down to the goal line, or hog the puck and drive the net himself.

On a well-executed 1-3-1, this is where the action originates from, not the point. More often than not, Galchenyuk (or Plekanec on the other PP unit) should be the one handling the puck right before a scoring chance.

Here, he draws Victor Hedman to him and passes off to the goal line.

Ideally, you'd want Desharnais and Parenteau to be flipped around (for reasons we'll look at in just a bit), but this is good too. Parenteau has some options...

Parenteau holds the puck for a split-second and both Tampa defenders converge on Desharnais (who is the most dangerous player from their perspective).

Instead, the puck goes right back to Galchenyuk. Brian Boyle can't get back in time and it's another five-alarm blaze for the Tampa D-zone coverage.

Meanwhile, Subban is lying in wait on the far side. If a pass or a rebound comes to him, that sucker is going through the net.

Galchenyuk can't quite bury it, and the rebound goes into the corner, but Subban will be the first on the puck, and so the attack continues.

Focus 3: the "hole" player on the 1-3-1

Before the series, I talked about how the Lightning's coaching staff has been stunting Steven Stamkos' effectiveness on the PP by sticking him in front of the net, instead of on the left side of the ice.

But the net-front (or the "hole") player is sometimes a great scoring option, if you can move the puck quickly and sharply enough down low.

Petry starts off with the puck on the left point. I'd rather he switch with Subban, since #76 has a better one-timer from the left, and Petry is better at holding the line on the right side.

But #26 has another idea. He goes through the PK box and hits Plekanec with a hard pass.

This is where personnel selection on the PP unit becomes really important.

If you are to run the 1-3-1 from the right side of the ice (which the Habs should almost always do, considering their best one-time shooter is a righty), then you'd want your half-wall guy to be a lefty (Plekanec or Galchenyuk), your goal-line guy to be a lefty (Pacioretty here, or Desharnais), and your "hole" guy to be righty (Parenteau or Gallagher).

Great things start to happen once these conditions are met.

1) Plekanec gets the puck on his forehand and immediately feed it to Pacioretty.

2) Pacioretty, who is also on his forehand and has body position on two Tampa PKers, redirects the puck to the front of the net.

3) Parenteau gets that puck on his forehand (yet again), and one-times it far side where Bishop isn't.

Unfortunately, PAP his the post.

But no biggie. That was a clinical passing play, and Petry is going in to retrieve the puck and make it happen all over again.

To sum up:

Great personnel deployment

Great puck movement

Great lateral passing

Great scoring chances

Great puck recovery

Just a great powerplay.

With their five-on-five play holding steady against the Lightning, the Habs can make a serious move back into the series with a few more quality plays like this on the man advantage.

A lot of fun to watch, absolutely no fun to defend against.

Jack Han is the Video & Analytics Coordinator for the McGill Martlet Hockey team. He also writes occasionally about the NHL for Habs Eyes on the Prize. You can find him on Twitter or on the ice at McConnell Arena.