One of the reasons the Montreal Canadiens have been mired in a swampland of suckitude this year is their terrible power play - it was 29th in the league as recently as a couple of weeks ago.
Brutal all year, but all of a sudden, it’s aliiiiive!
Some tinkering, like moving David Desharnais to the half-board on the top unit and giving Lars Eller regular time on the second unit (which he has gotten over the last 10 games or so), has clearly helped, as has P.K. Subban’s more poised shooting.
Don’t look now, but after notching four power-play goals in the last three games, the Habs’ man-advantage is clicking like a turn signal, and with Andrei Markov’s return, it might even return to its former lofty heights. Monday night’s game against red-hot Buffalo, which has a middling penalty kill unit on home ice, will be an interesting test.
Beady-eyed observers will recall that the Habs have typically iced a top-10 power play in the past six years, which has played a significant part in making the postseason.
It won’t get them there this year, but if it keeps roaring along over the last 13 games, it could well nudge the Habs out of top-three territory for next June’s draft and a chance to draft Mikhail Grigorenko or Filip Forsberg.
So grab the hankies Canadiens Nation, because these numbers might cause a little weeping.
Over the past five games, the Habs have been on an absolute power play tear, scoring on 7 of 17 attempts (Subban has goals on the old attaque à cinq in three of his last five games).
And in the 14 games before that, they were on an 8-for-46 string, a respectable 17.4 per cent efficiency that, carried over an entire season, would have put Montreal in the top half of NHL power plays.
Zoom out a little more, and the picture is even more striking.
Since Feb. 1, they’ve struck at a 23.8 per clip - that, folks, is an elite power-play (the Oilers, who lead the league, score a shade under 23 per cent of the time).
Since the New Year, the Habs have gone 9-5-1 in games where they scored at least one power-play goal, trouble is they’ve gone 4-9-2 in games where they haven’t.
Still detest Tomas Kaberle? He has 16 power-play points this season, which trails only Desharnais.
Now the question that hurts: what would this season have looked like had the Habs, who have improved to become a middle-of-the-pack team five-on-five, had even an average power play?
Another stat to consider: the Canadiens are scoring almost exactly the same number of goals per game this year (2.59) as they did in 2010-11 (2.60). But last year they scored 57 power-play goals, whereas this season they have 39 through 69 games.
That pace would give them 46 on the year. And the number of games the Habs have lost by one goal? Ten.
Kinda makes one think those 11 extra goals over the course of a season would have come in handy, eh?
It’s far too simplistic to boil success or failure over 82 NHL games down to one factor, but this space has harped on the power-play before and it’s a point worth raising again.