Stu Cowan: No quick fix for Canadiens power play, Guy Carbonneau says
|Montreal Gazette 21 Jan 2019 at 15:39|
Montreal Canadiens captain Shea Weber takes a shot during warmup prior to game against the Florida Panthers on Jan. 15, 2019. John Mahoney / Montreal Gazette
There was a time when the Canadiens ’ power play was so good that the NHL had to change its rules.
The Canadiens won the Stanley Cup in 1956 after posting a 45-15-10 record and outscoring their opponents 222-131. Teams could score as many goals as possible during a minor penalty back then and the Canadiens’ power play was their biggest weapon, clicking at 26 per cent.
Before the start of the 1956-57 season, the NHL changed the rule so teams could only score once on the power play, giving them a better chance against the Canadiens.
Fast-forward 62 years and another rule change could help the Canadiens: allow teams to decline a penalty, just like in football.
The Canadiens have been one of the best five-on-five teams this season, but rank last on the power play (12.6 per cent) and it could cost them a playoff spot. The Canadiens have been worse on the power play at home (10.5 per cent) than on the road (15.1 per cent) and have only 20 power-play goals in 50 games.
Since Canadiens head coach Claude Julien and his players are tired of answering questions about the power play — coupled with the fact they had the day off Monday — it seemed like a good time to discuss it with Guy Carbonneau. During the two full seasons Carbonneau coached the Canadiens, they had the best power play in the NHL — 22.8 per cent in 2006-07 and 24.1 per cent in 2007-08.
What made his power play so good?
“I think having Andrei Markov at the point definitely helped,” said Carbonneau, an analyst with RDS. “I found that having a couple of set plays helped … plays that we could make the opposition pick (by the way they defended). We always had Andrei put in a position where he could make passes on both sides. We had Sheldon Souray, who had a good shot, Mark Streit had a good shot. Guys like that were able to find the seams for Andrei to make passes to them. We had a guy like (Alex) Kovalev, who was really good on the wall. He was a threat to shoot because he had a really good wrist shot, but he was able to find players on the other side. He was a guy who kind of slowed down the play and made the seams open.”
The Canadiens were hoping the return of Shea Weber and his booming shot following off-season knee surgery would help fix the power play, but the Canadiens are 7-for-72 in the 26 games since the captain returned and he has only two power-play goals.
Carbonneau said the Canadiens should position Weber at the top of the faceoff circle to the goalie’s right and leave him there, just like the Washington Capitals do with Alex Ovechkin. But Carbonneau noted that Weber alone can’t fix things.
“That’s where Ovechkin scores 90 per cent of the time,” Carbonneau said. “He doesn’t move from there. People know that, but he gets open because of the other people around him. He gets open because T.J. Oshie, who’s a right-handed shot, is in the middle of the slot and he gets open. Evgeny Kuznetsov is a lefty and he’s a threat on the other side, so you have to respect that. (Ovechkin’s) open because (John) Carlson, who’s a righty on defence, has a chance to be open for a good shot from the top of the circle. That’s what I see that doesn’t happen with the Canadiens. Either they rush their plays too much or they don’t have the right person in the right place. You need somebody in front of the net and if the person you put there doesn’t want to stay there, then you’ve got to find somebody else who will do it.”
Another problem is the Canadiens are predictable and pass too much.
“Adam Oates was probably one of the best passers in the game,” Carbonneau said. “But to me, when I killed penalties against him he was not a threat to shoot it because he wanted to pass the puck all the time. So if he was in the corner, I just left him there. You have to be more than just a good passer. You have to be a threat.
“Sometimes it’s not to have your best players on the ice, you just have to have the right players. If your best players don’t want to understand what you’re trying to do, it’s never going to work.”
Kirk Muller, who was an assistant coach under Carbonneau, is an associate under Julien and is in charge of the power play. But Carbonneau said all the blame can’t be placed on Muller because the entire coaching staff has a say.
“The head coach makes the decisions,” Carbonneau said. “They all have experience in hockey and they all sit down and come up with ideas.”
So far, none of the ideas is working — and don’t expect a new rule allowing teams to decline penalties.