Before the season started, many hockey analysts predicted that if Montreal was to have any success this season, they would have to finish in the top-five on the power play. Five games into this young season, Montreal's power play ranks 29th in a league of 30 teams with a success rate or as many would say a failure rate of 5.88%. They have managed to score one goal on 17 chances that the opposition has presented them with. Despite their lack of production with the man-advantage, they have been able to earn seven points out of a possibility of ten, largely due to Carey Price's brilliance and the "do-not-die" attitude that they have shown.
In a town, where every little mistake is scrutinized and blown to the proportions of a global epidemic, their ability to win matches has overshadowed their inability to score on the power play. While satisfied with the team's efforts so far, many critics would argue that this inability has already cost them a game they should have won. Last year Montreal made the playoffs with a point they earned after an overtime loss to Toronto in the final game of the season, so the importance of every point lost could be huge come the last day of the season.
In the 2009-2010 season, after losing Andrei Markov in the first match of the season, Montreal struggled with only two wins in their first seven games. They scored two power play goals in the first game but subsequently managed to score only two more in their next six games. That prompted GM Bob Gainey to look for help outside the organization and he went on to sign Marc-André Bergeron. Was the decision of not resigning Bergeron a smart hockey decision? Should management knock on that same door and resign Bergeron? Will the loss of Glen Metropolit, who scored a team-leading 10 power play goals, hurt the team? Is it too early to press the panic button?
The Power play is an important aspect of the game not only to score goals that eventually can lead to more wins but also to set the pace of the game. Historically, Montreal has always played good hockey in front of their own fans and lots of that success has come from a good power play. Last season Montreal struggled at home and coincidentally so did their power play with an efficacy rate of 16.89%. But they managed to squeeze into the playoffs largely due to their success on the power play away from Montreal scoring 32 goals on 113 chances for a whopping 28.32%.
Improving on the power play is an immediate and most concerning matter for the Habs but their coaching staff also need to work on a few other changes to improve the team. Even though Montreal finished the 2009-2010 season ranked 2nd on the power play behind the power house Washington Capitals, they were ranked 25th in the league scoring 210 goals.
Not only did Montreal struggle to score goals at even strength, they also struggled to draw more penalties with only 261 power play opportunities in 82 games, placing them dead last in the league. Montreal failed to use their speed to their advantage and struggled to establish an aggressive forechecking game surrendering 311 power plays to their opponents.
So far this season, even though their power play has been failing, they have managed to score 13 goals at even strength. At the time this article was written, those 13 even-strength goals ranked them 1st in the league tied with the Chicago Blackhawks and the Toronto Maple Leafs. But once again, Montreal is struggling to generate more power play chances in spite of outshooting their opponents in three of the five matches so far. They have averaged only 3.4 power plays per game ranking them 27th in the league. This indicates that Montreal also needs to work on their net presence to force their opponents to take more penalties.
The last few seasons have seen Montreal having lots of success on the power play. The fans saw their team's power play being led by the likes of Sheldon Souray, Mark Streit, Marc-André Bergeron, Alex Kovalev and Michael Ryder. They also saw that the departure of all those players year after year didn't hamper team's success on the power play. While all these players played a vital part on those units, Andrei Markov was the only consistent factor that held the fort together. Montreal has certainly missed him being a quarter back on their power play during the first five games of the season. It appears that he will miss both of the games this week as well. The Canadiens, just like their fans are waiting anxiously to see the number 79 get back in the line-up and do what he does best, making the others around him look better and spark some fire under this failing power play.