The Habs Power-Play is Missing Jaromir Jagr
After Tuesday's debacle against Tampa Bay, I wanted to speak to a couple of members of the Canadiens' power-play to ask about a couple of things in specific.
My first question was: How much say do the players have on the strategy of the power-play?
My second question was: What's more important, puck movement or player movement, and which one is lacking?
"We have some input, but at the end of the day, as a player I'm going to be a player, I'm not going to be a coach. The coaches watch tons of video, they know what we should be doing," said P.K. Subban.
"The most important thing is making the right play at the right time. Puck movement, player movement are just as important as each other, but the most important thing is the right shot at the right time.
If you watch the best players in the world--like, we just played Pittsburgh and they have a pretty great power-play and great players--they keep it simple. They could make plays around everyone, but they just wait for an open look and they shoot it."
Here's what Max Pacioretty said:
"You have to find different ways to get open and find different ways to score goals. You watch players around the league. You watch Stamkos on the power-play; I think he played four different positions on the power-play. He played nearside half-wall, he played in the slot, he played in front of the net. You know, he plays everywhere and just finds different ways to get open and different ways to score goals. I think that's the challenge for me going forward, and I think I have the mind to learn how to do that, and hopefully I can."
What's the most important thing to do on the power-play?
"Shoot pucks. The opportunities are there. We gotta keep things simple and shoot pucks."
Puck movement or player movement?
"I think there's only a certain amount of guys that really are supposed to be moving on the power-play. Obviously the top side d-man's pretty stationary trying to set up the two flanks. I think the backside d-man has to move a lot, and I think that's really important because it can either open up the slot or open up his shot on the back door.
The mindset is there, the structure is there, the players are there, but we gotta get things dirty and find a way to put a dirty one in."
On how much input the players have on the strategy:
"We always do (get together and talk about things to incorporate). It's not us against them (players against coaches), and it's not forwards against D; we're all in this together."
Subban elaborated, off the cuff. He told me that he's been a part of some excellent power-plays in Montreal, which prompted me to ask how much the strategy has changed in his time with the Canadiens.
He responded that it's changed a lot, but that's because the personnel has changed considerably.
When you think about that statement, he's right. Go back to the Canadiens power-play when Scott Gomez and Michael Cammalleri were big parts of it, the break-in was completely different, and the one-timer option in Cammalleri was very different from what Pacioretty offers in that capacity.
I got a lot of good out of those questions, and consensus obviously points to simplification, and like Subban said, making the right play at the right time, but I didn't get the answers that match up with my perception of the Canadiens power-play.
The components are different on every team. People can talk my ear off about strategy, and there's no arguing with the fact that the Canadiens need to adjust, but it's largely about personnel. Moreover, it's about the hockey sense of your personnel, and whether or not your personnel is properly positioned to take advantage of what their hockey sense offers.
The Penguins have been a dominant force on the power-play since the lockout-abbreviated season of 2012-13. This year, they're operating at 21.5% efficiency, and even though that's a bit lower than 24.7% in '12-13, and 23.4% in '13-14, there's a reason they still score so much with the man-advantage despite how much their opponents plan for facing it.
The Penguins have the personnel to have incredible puck movement, but puck movement isn't enough to open up the shooting lanes for the right shot at the right time. The player movement has to be as good, and it has to be constant. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz and Kris Letang get both aspects conspiring because they're slotted into the right roles, and those roles have been established for years. It helps to have Patrick Hornqvist and David Perron filling in, not to mention James Neal and Matt Niskanen in previous years.
I think the puck movement on Montreal's power-play is pretty good, but when it is, the player movement stagnates. I think when the players start moving around more, they aren't quite as composed with the puck, and that boils down to confidence. It begs the question as to whether or not the players are in the right place to change it.
The year Pacioretty finally cemented his place in the NHL (2010-11), he scored 14 goals. Seven of them were on the power-play. He scored them from in front of the net. All seven of them.
Since Michel Therrien took over, Pacioretty's been a regular fixture on the half-wall. He's there because he has an amazing wrist shot. But it's hard to argue it's the right place for him. He's got two goals from there, this season; both of them were quick wrist shots off faceoff plays. He doesn't like to take slap shots, and he's doesn't score off one-timers. That's not to say he can't, it's just to say he doesn't. And as a player who doesn't give away the puck very often, he does give it away too often on the power-play because though he does have good vision, his passing game is not one made of the finesse, patience and precision that lends well to being a true threat from the half-wall on the power-play.
I'm not knocking Pacioretty, and if I bring it up with him, he'll probably shoot that down. He's a proud player, and I have to think he believes he can play anywhere in the offensive zone, on the power-play and be successful.
The right guy for the half-wall should be Alex Galchenyuk. But, whether the fans want to hear it or not, he's not fully polished enough to succeed there, yet. His one-timer also needs work. That's purely down to experience, because he has all the tools to be a lethal threat from there. And until he is ready for it, he'll be competing with David Desharnais for that job. From down low, where Alex Galchenyuk's been playing on the power-play, he has zero goals this season.
Brendan Gallagher's job is to dig pucks out and bang home rebounds. It's a job that's given him 11 goals so far this season, but none of them scored on the powerplay.
Subban and Andrei Markov should remain as a pair, but if they're going to split them to have Markov and Sergei Gonchar play as one, and Subban and Tom Gilbert play as the other, they need to have Subban on the left side. Subban's one-timer may be a focus of the opposition's shut down plan, but it's hard to understand that his own coaches would take away the threat for the opposition as they have on several occasions.
Practice yesterday had Nathan Beaulieu and Gonchar as a pair. Composure will come for Beaulieu with experience, but it's not there yet.
Sven Andrighetto-Tomas Plekanec-David Desharnais haven't had any success as a unit, and you can easily chalk that up to their diminutive nature and the importance of puck retrieval. If they're forced to dump the puck in, evidence is strong they won't retrieve it.
Subban's right, the coaches watch tons of video. They know what to do when those three get on the ice as a unit.
Two guys who can handle relinquishing and regaining possession: Jiri Sekac and Lars Eller. They can do the dirty work down low and in front, but the Canadiens coaching staff hasn't relied on them with the man-advantage at all. At a 13.7% power-play success rate, it's almost impossible to understand how two of Montreal's strongest possession drivers; players with offensive potential, have barely sniffed an opportunity 40 games in.
The fact is, the Canadiens could use some help from outside of this roster to get this sorted.
For three straight seasons, Jaromir Jagr been dangling as a great, low cost addition to the Canadiens. He wants to play here. He's admitted it several times; eager for the opportunity to compete with fellow Kladno native Plekanec. Pierre Gauthier wasn't interested. Marc Bergevin has passed for two straight seasons.
Jagr can be the guy on the half-wall the Canadiens just don't have. Jagr can help Galchenyuk learn the nuance of that position at this level. Jagr can complete the team's second line in a way that none of the current options can. And by Bergevin's repeated criteria, Jagr can help you get to the playoffs and help you get through them.
The power-play can do so much to push this team over the edge. The coaches can't keep banging their heads against the wall with the same strategies and same personnel and expect that it'll all work out.
Desperation with the man-advantage is a prerequisite. The rest needs to change, and change immediately.