therrien IVThe Canadiens are one of the better teams in the NHL this season. Think about where they would be if they had even a moderately effective power play.

Over the last four or five practices, Michel Therrien and his coaches have worked hard to find a way through what has become a long term issue.   The latest experiment is replacing Andrei Markov with P.A. Parenteau on the point next to P.K. Subban on the first wave with Markov then dropping into the second unit next to Sergei Gonchar.  At this point in time the coaching staff seems to be operating more out of desperation than any thought out tactical adjustment although, too be fair to Parenteau, he is tied with Markov and Subban for the team lead in PPG with three.  That trio accounts for nine of the Canadiens 16 man-advantage goals.

Everyone, from the coaching staff,  to the players,  to fans has a theory about what’s gone wrong.  Is it the wrong personnel? Bad coaching? Poor zone entry.? Poor puck possession? Too much reliance on Subban’s shot?  Lack of goal crease presence? All of the above?

Not even the addition of Gonchar, one of the league’s best power play point men over the last two decades has helped. To me that indicates that the issues go well beyond what’s happening back at the blueline.

The near total collapse of the power dates back to early December 2013 which means we are well past calling this merely a slump.

55-Sergei Gonchar Acquired from Dallas to Improve Power Play

55-Sergei Gonchar Acquired from Dallas to Improve Power Play

Going into last season’s December 5th Bell Centre game against Boston the Canadiens power play ranked fifth at 24.5% and their special teams were plus-11. They went 0-for-4 that night but won the game 2-1. Over the next eight games the power play was 0-for-16 and, while we obviously weren’t aware of it at the time, the slide had begun. Over the final 53 games of the season man advantage  effectiveness was cut in half – 12.9% (23/117) and the Canadiens slipped from fourth to 19th in overall league rankings.  In fact through the final half of last season the Canadiens power play was the NHL-worst.

This season is only a continuation. The Habs are currently ranked 27th at 13.7%.

In the Canadiens 94 games dating back to December 5th of last season the Canadiens have scored 39 power play goals in 294 opportunities (13.2%). This season alone, St. Louis has scored 38 power play goals.  They’ve done that in half the advantages it has taken the Canadiens to score 39 and in fewer than half the games.

In a league where special teams differential is critical to ultimate success, even with an excellant penalty killing record, the Habs have gone from plus-11 to minus-11 since early December of last season.  This carries us well beyond discussing a statistical anomaly. In a league where special teams play a major role in ultimate success or failure, this must be considered a critical system failure.