Yeah, we know. The Canadiens powerplay sucks. Not so much lately, as the Minnesota Wild might attest, but overall, the powerplay has been an embarrassment, right?
While it’s a sad sight to see a team with the man advantage move the puck from one hopeless spot on the ice to the next, might I suggest that we’ve been overreacting to the importance of the powerplay?
When all is said and done, and this dreadful season becomes a thing of the past, fans and media are going to dissect where everything went wrong for the Canadiens. Most, if not all are going to blame injuries and the powerplay for the Canadiens’ dreadful season. I won’t touch the injury excuse, but using the powerplay as a crutch to explain the poor season is a myth, and something that needs to be purged.
The Canadiens currently have 35 powerplay goals in 243 opportunities for a success rate of 14.4%, good for 28th in the NHL (WE’RE NOT THE WORST!).
I’ve heard people say “if the Habs had just an average powerplay, the season would have gone differently”.
If the Canadiens had a league-average powerplay, which currently sits at a middling 17.1%, the Canadiens would have just 41 goals in their same 243 opportunities. That’s a total of 6 more goals on the year. SIX! What does an additional 6 goals fix? Impossible to say, but the likely answer is nothing. If anything, it takes the Habs from being a team set to pick in the top-3 in the league, to a team set to pick in the top 4.
If we take it to the extreme and grant the Canadiens a 21.8% success rate on the powerplay – which would make them league leaders (Oilers lead at 21.7%), they would have an additional 18 goals on the year based on 243 opportunities. What does 18 more goals on the year fix? Again, impossible to say, but it still likely doesn’t make the Canadiens a playoff team given the number of games they’ve lost by 2 or more goals (including times they were shutout). We can’t assume that those 18 additional goals all translate to points in the standings. Some goals would have been scored during games where the Canadiens were already blowing out a team, (i.e. maybe they beat the Jets 8-3 instead of 7-3 – Eller’s penalty shot goal notwithstanding). Some powerplay goals would have been scored in some the many games in which they were being blown out, or shutout. Undoubtedly an extra 18 powerplay goals would lift the Canadiens from the Conference basement, but keep in mind that I took this example to the extreme. It’s unrealistic and absurd to bestow a league-best powerplay on them. Even Andrei Markov couldn’t make this powerplay jump from 28th to 1st.
We’ve been spoiled by the Habs powerplay. Since the lockout, the Habs powerplay has been ranked 5th, 1st, 1st, 13th, 2nd, 7th, 28th (this year). Given this data, people naturally make the assumption that a poor powerplay = disaster.
If this is you, then you’ll love this part. While people from all walks of life tell us how important the powerplay is (I’m not here to say it is unimportant – as my friend @HabsWatch says – “weak even strength play and a strong powerplay is like going to a restaurant where the main course sucks, but dessert is good.”), the harsh reality is that if your game plan is based on powerplay success, you’re doomed. Why? Try this on for size: when the lockout ended, the league promised a crackdown on obstruction, fighting and other infractions in an attempt to clean up the sport and generate more offense. As a result, the average team during the 2005-06 season had 480 powerplay opportunities (5.85 chances per game). In the years since, that number has dropped precipitously to the point where the average team this year is expected to benefit from a total of just 277 powerplay opportunities (3.38 chances per game). I’ll let that sink in for a moment. And for the the visual learners out there, I give you this:
All good? Good. In 7 seasons, teams have had 203 powerplay chances taken away, or 2.48 chances less per game. All told, that’s a drop of 42% in powerplay opportunities. Try cutting your salary by 42% over 7 years and tell me if your bread is still being buttered.
It should also be noted that this season is not an aberration. You’ll notice the constant downward trend in powerplay chances. They have dropped in every single season since the lockout ended. Whether players are adjusting, or if the refs are more relaxed in their standards is irrelevant to this discussion. So if the powerplay is declining in importance, it must mean that even strength play is paramount.
Coming out of the lockout, the Habs decided to focus their energy and gameplan on powerplay success and goaltending, especially so during the Gainey-Gauthier-Martin retooling era that brought in small, skilled players that were totally inadequate for even strength hockey. What the Habs did not recognize is that the powerplay was already declining in importance at a rapid rate. Why they built the Habs to succeed in a style that was quickly going the way of the dodo bird is beyond me.
“If the Habs had just an average powerplay, the season would have gone differently”.
No, it wouldn’t have. This statement may have been true between 2005-2008, but the sad truth is teams nowadays do not receive enough powerplay chances to score enough goals to make a huge difference.
I don’t expect everyone to believe me, as changing beliefs is often painful, and it’s more comfy in the cocoon of familiarity.
Questions or comments are welcome. Thanks for reading!