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The Habs' lack of offensive creativity, and the value of east-west offense

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The Habs have a great Corsi For percentage this year, which should translate into an endless stream of goals, but they're not taking advantage of their puck possession in the offensive zone.

Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

Last week we discussed how the Habs' breakout strategy is hurting their scoring chances.  Now we'll focus on how they're not maximizing their chances when they actually do make it to the offensive zone.

By all logic, the Habs and their 53.4 CF% should be creating goals, but we see a clear disconnect between shots and goals when we take a look at their scoring chances. They rank 15th in scoring chances at 50.2%.

The key here is the difference between east-west and north-south offense. The Habs are traditionally a north-south team. They gain the zone and put the puck on net without much puck movement. The result is that goalies aren't forced to move very much and have a very easy time tracking the puck.

Chris Boyle and Stephan Valiquette explain it perfectly with his their use of the 'Royal Road'.

The Royal Road is a line that goes directly through the middle of the ice from one net to the other. It separates the ice into two equal parts. Stephen has observed that a puck crossing this imaginary line immediately preceding a shot increases a shooters scoring opportunity by over 10 times.

You can learn more about taking advantage of the Royal Road by clicking here.

We all know that a moving goalie is a vulnerable goalie. Let's take a look at how the Habs are making life easy on opposing netminders. There are endless examples of such behaviour, but we'll keep it to a few frames for each play as to avoid bombarding everyone's bandwidth with examples of failed plays.

Mark Barberio has two choices here. He can either reverse the puck to Lars Eller, who has plenty of space to make a return pass to a streaking Devante Smith-Pelly, or he can send the puck to Smith-Pelly for a shot from about 50 feet.

As you can see, the defensive coverage from the Blue Jackets would allow for a give-and-go between Eller and Smith-Pelly, but now that Smith-Pelly has the puck the options are limited. He puts a shot on net, Joonas Korpisalo doesn't have to move whatsoever, and makes a relatively easy save.

The give-and-go would have forced Korpisalo to re-adjust, thus making it a higher quality scoring chance.

Even though Korpisalo coughs up a rebound, there's no one remotely close to the net to capitalize on the error.

Here's an example from the power play, which definitely lacks creativity. P.K. Subban filters the puck over to Tomas Plekanec on the half boards. Instead of finding David Desharnais with an east-west pass, he decides to simply flip the puck on net. It's worth noting that Desharnais had about half the offensive zone to himself.

No one is covering Desharnais and there's a clear passing lane. Plekanec draws in a Blue Jackets defender, and simply flips the puck on net.

The Habs attempt to overload Korpisalo, but there's no rebound given. It was a safe choice, and you'd be hard pressed to say it was a bad play, but it clearly lacks creativity. The goalie didn't have to move, thus making an easy save.

Let's examine some east-west plays that turned into goals:

Subban is presented with two options. Either he can take the safe route and flip a weak wrist shot at the net, or he can get creative and attempt a pass to a streaking Torrey Mitchell. He opts for the creative option, which also forces the goalie to readjust.

Once again, a Habs player is presented with two options. Either take a shot and risk it being blocked, or hold on to the puck and take advantage of the poor defensive coverage by the Blue Jackets. He decides on the cross-zone pass, which forces Korpisalo out of position.

The result is an easy goal for Smith-Pelly. This is pee-wee level knowledge, but as you can clearly see, when a goalie has no time to adjust he's more likely to allow goals.

Here's an example of a successful east-west pass on the power play, which is an area where the Habs tend to struggle.

Subban is presented with two options. He could flick the puck on net for the safe play, and seeing as there's traffic in front of the goalie it could possible yield a scoring chance. That being said, it would involve a puck battle, and a shot on net isn't even guaranteed.

Instead, Subban identifies Alex Galchenyuk in a shooting position across the zone.  He fakes a slap shot and quickly gets the puck to Galchenyuk.

This forces Korpisalo to adjust, leaving a wide open net for Galchenyuk to aim at. The east-west pass pays off, and the Habs score a relatively easy goal on the power play.

Of course, this isn't groundbreaking analysis, and I don't want to present it as such, but the fact of the matter is that the Habs have a tendency to make life easy on opposing goaltenders by not forcing them to move. Their north-south offense is boring and is leading to a decline in high danger scoring chances. They like to concentrate on creating chances on the rush, but it's clear that opposing teams have adapted, and are more than comfortable allowing low quality chances.

A little creativity is key in the NHL, even though most coaches tend to prefer safe over creative. Unfortunately, safe isn't an option for the Habs anymore. They've slipped in the standings not only because their goaltenders have struggled, but their offense also lacks originality.

The Canadiens will need to pick up roughly 43 points in the remaining 32 games if they hope to make the playoffs.

Their safe brand of hockey simply isn't good enough to secure a top 8 spot. It's time for them to adjust both their breakouts and their offensive zone chances. In fact, it was time to adjust their strategy a long time ago.