Analysis | Worst power play in NHL in 20 games

(Denver) Unless a goalkeeper showers him with gifts, as was the case in Seattle last Sunday, the Canadian does not score many goals. It’s not a new problem. But it has been particularly glaring in a specific department in recent weeks.

Over the last 20 games, the Habs have had the worst power play in the NHL. With a success rate of 11.3% in this interval, as of 32e rank of the circuit, the Flannel converted barely one chance in nine. The break is all the more striking given that during the previous 20 matches, Montreal was growing at a rate of 27.3%. The fall is not only obvious: it is brutal.

The present campaign took place in three stages on this level. The first 30 matches were the scene of a search for solutions. After having, by management’s own admission, completely neglected this aspect of the game in 2022-2023, we identified this project among the priorities for 2023-2024.

We therefore witnessed different experiences and some changes, depending on observations and injuries. When Kirby Dach fell in action in the second game of the season, he was initially replaced by Josh Anderson in the first wave. Alex Newhook also had his chance until he was injured at the end of November.

It was ultimately Juraj Slafkovsky who was inserted into this unit when he began to find his feet offensively.

This period was also one of running-in, particularly in terms of zone entries. The slingshot strategy (slingshot, in English), this famous back pass to Nick Suzuki who, in acceleration, carries the puck to the blue line, required a lot of repetitions. We also removed Sean Monahan from the front of the net to move him to the pivot position (bumper).

On December 16, at the end of the 30e match, the power play had an efficiency rate of 16.7%. To date, excluding the inevitable fluctuations in the first days of the calendar, this is the cumulative low reached this season.


Cole Caufield

Then something clicked. From December 18, the Canadian’s success rate began to rise, and rise again, until reaching 20.2% on February 6, in match number 50. We were still far from the performances of the elite of the circuit , but the improvement was evident. The zone entries were effective, the puck moved quickly, the threat came from everywhere, and no longer just from Cole Caufield. During this golden period, more than one in four chances resulted in a goal.

However, since the 51e match, the trend went downward. In total, the effectiveness of the five-man attack lost 2.4 percentage points, to today stand at 17.8%. The decline has been particularly drastic recently: only three goals in 41 occasions. The magic no longer works at all.


Players and coaches are scratching their heads at this obvious drop in performance.

Interim head coach Trevor Letowski urged “caution.” “The chances (to score) are there,” he recalled. Now is not the time to change everything. »

Letowski has a good point. The rate of shots on target has declined, but the number of quality chances is slightly higher in the last 20 games than in the previous 20. The puck, however, refuses to penetrate in front of the net.

Alex Burrows, assistant coach in charge of the power play, identified a “lack of execution” and difficulty “finishing plays.”

“We’ve been dropping the puck more recently,” said Nick Suzuki. We notice more shaky zone entries, lost pucks, passes that do not find recipients…

The most visible change is certainly on the personnel level. Sean Monahan was traded to the Winnipeg Jets on February 2. The Canadian had then played 49 matches. The CH reached its peak in the numerical advantage in the following game.

Alex Newhook returned to the game on February 10 after treating an ankle injury. The replacement of number 91 by number 15 initially generated a few goals, it is true. However, it seems obvious that the presence of Monahan, as dangerous and unpredictable as a shooter as a passer, is missing from the Habs in this phase of the game.


Alex Newhook

In the locker room, the question is delicate. “I think “Newy” does a good job,” said Trevor Letowski. It’s easy to point the finger at him when the puck doesn’t go in, but I think he’s the right guy (in this role). »

Monahan and Newhook “are similar,” Suzuki believes. “They have good touches with the puck, they position themselves well, they are available at all times,” said the captain. I don’t think it changed much. »

“We know what we are capable of,” added Newhook. If we could simply complete more plays in tight spaces, I think our percentage could quickly start to rise again. »

Second silent wave

We obviously cannot say beyond any doubt that the departure of Sean Monahan alone justifies the breakdown of Montreal’s numerical advantage. Let us nevertheless mention that, since his arrival in Winnipeg, the Jets’ player has produced at a rate of 27.3%. But let’s not digress.

What we do know, however, is that help will not come from the second wave. The last time anyone who wasn’t Suzuki, Caufield, Slafkovsky, Matheson, Monahan or Newhook got a point under such circumstances was December 16.

In short, over the last 39 games, the entire rest of the team has been shut out. During this period, Josh Anderson and Brendan Gallagher each spent around forty minutes on the ice with a man advantage. Jesse Ylönen (almost 30 minutes), Arber Xhekaj and Joshua Roy (22 each) did not do better.

If the first wave continues to threaten, the same cannot be said of the second which, in addition to not obtaining any points, does not generate much, if anything at all.

We end up wondering if we are not sending the second unit simply to rest the rest of the group.

How much attention is given to power play support staff?, we asked Alex Burrows on Monday.

“No matter who is on the second wave, we have not changed the plan,” he defended. We have our meeting with the first, then the one with the second, and we try to approach the numerical advantage in the same way. »

Sometimes, he noted, the second wave has to settle for “crumbs” in the final seconds of the five-man attack, although this is not always the case.

“It remains important ice time for them,” he insisted. It allows them to have good touches in the offensive zone, to look good around the net. It’s up to them to continue to execute and find ways to be successful. »

Although there are only about three weeks left in the season, and 12 games to go, Nick Suzuki believes there is still “a lot of time” to turn things around.

“All it takes is one goal and the guys will regain confidence in themselves,” he said. Slumps can happen, but we know that we have already produced at almost 30% for a while. We want to get back to that. »


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