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Habs Powerplay Should be Tops

August 1, 2011, 10:20 AM ET [ Comments]
Habs Talk
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When I think about Montreal's powerplay, I can't but feel they were lucky to finish with the second-best one in the East last season.

Forget the fact that they lost Andrei Markov just seven games into his return, they didn't start the season with him either.

Up until December 28th, the team was forced to rely on P.K. Subban. Subban's limited experience hindered his ability to act as the team's quarterback, and their reliance on Roman Hamrlik was a desperate plea at avoiding a last-place finish in the category. They were forced to alternate between Spacek, Weber, Picard and Gorges on the back-end, which is hardly a recipe for powerplay success.

And then you had Scott Gomez and his struggles, Mike Cammalleri and his inability to keep the kind of pace most expected from him, and there was an obvious hole in front of the opposing goalie, where the Canadiens failed to find someone to stand and tip pucks in or smack in rebounds.

James Wisniewski's entrance meant the end of Montreal's powerplay strife, but he wasn't the only reason they started to click with regularity.

Sixteen days prior to Wisniewski's arrival, Max Pacioretty made his way from dominating the AHL in the month of November to skating in Montreal's top six. On the 15th, Pacioretty made his debut, and on the 16th, against the Bruins, he found his rhythm.

Pacioretty started the night by scoring his first goal, just one second after an expiring Bruins minor. Seven more of his 14 goals, before he got injured, came with the man advantage.

Regardless of his personal contribution to the team's numbers, Pacioretty's inclusion in the lineup completely changed the options of the powerplay. Up until Wisniewski's arrival, the Canadiens were bent on cross-slot, one-timer plays, which need to be perfect if you're going to score. They opened the point up with Wisniewski's big shot, and Pacioretty created a down-low option the team just wasn't looking for until he got there.

For the first half of the season, Andrei Kostitsyn, who is known for his amazing shot, was the one stuck playing in front of the net. The man doing that job on the other unit was Brian Gionta. The problems were obvious: Kostitsyn would fade to the slot to give himself a look at a shot, and Gionta isn't a force to be reckoned with in that position, though he does find a way to bang pucks in from the sides of the net.

Either way, the Canadiens powerplay was entirely predictable without Wisniewski and Pacioretty. You could isolate Subban and force him to shoot wide. You could isolate Cammalleri and know that he was the only legitimate one-timer option on the right side of the ice. You didn't have to worry about Hamrlik shooting, and you didn't have to worry about net presence.

For the first half of the year, you could count the amount of times the Canadiens attempted a cross-crease, down-low play on the powerplay on one hand.

Wisniewski's shot obviously opened up every option. Subban became a one-time threat because more attention needed to be paid to Wisniewski. Cammalleri became slightly more open because more attention went to Wisniewski and Subban. But still, there was no solution to the predictability of the powerplay until Max Pacioretty became a regular fixture in front of opposing nets.

Now, with a healthy Pacioretty set to resume his career on the same pace he established before suffering that horrible injury, with Erik Cole in the mix, with Andrei Markov healthy, with Subban more established, with Cammalleri healthy and likely more consistent, with the real Scott Gomez, the Canadiens powerplay should finish in the top five without fail.

Pacioretty and Cole open up the down-low plays. With Gomez and Plekanec able to work the puck across the goal-line, opposing teams have two big bodies to worry about.

They also will have to worry about Brian Gionta on the back door. Speaking of the back door, Andrei Markov's sneak in from the blue line was a big missing piece of the puzzle last season.

Cammalleri, Kostitsyn and Subban will benefit the most from the ice opened up by Pacioretty and Cole down low and the options Markov offers. All three can shoot to score from the blue line in, and all three will have a bit more time to deliver.

One more change is possibly on its way for Montreal's powerplay. It could have a new coach. If Perry Pearn isn't handling the assignment, Randy Cunneyworth or Randy Ladouceur will.

The Hamilton Bulldogs' powerplay operated at 18.7% efficiency last year, which is pretty good, considering Pacioretty, Desharnais, White, Weber and Subban spent the majority of their year with the Canadiens.
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