Monday, November 12, 2007

NHL's Best Power Play

With the increase in penalties called under the post-lockout obstruction crackdown, power plays have become very important in the NHL. Last season, the best power play was that of the Montreal Canadiens they scored on a league leading 22.8% of their power plays. In the summer, they lost power play point man Sheldon Souray to the Edmonton Oilers via free agency. Since he had led the team with 48 power play points, it was expected that their power play would decline this season. That has not happened. So far, Montreal's power play leads the NHL with a 29.5% success rate (a significant improvement from last season).

This is done with a power play led by Alexei Kovalev, Saku Koivu, Andrei Markov, Christopher Higgins and Tomas Plekanec. Though these are solid players, they are not the type of stars one might expect would lead the NHL's best power play (for example none are NHL superstars or top scorers). The man who gets the biggest credit for Montreal's power play success should be assistant coach Doug Jarvis who runs it from the bench. Jarvis has done a magnificent job setting up a successful power play without building it around any superstar players. If I had a coaching opening in the upcoming summer, Jarvis would be on the short list of people I would want to talk to in order to fill it because of this success.

This power play success is a large part of the reason that Montreal is off to a good start. Their current 9-7 record (with three losses counted as regulation ties) has them in fourth place in the East Conference to date. Their power play success has not followed at even strength. Their offence has scored 23 of its 49 goals on the power play (this is almost 47%). In non-power play situations the team has not been nearly as successful. In fact no Montreal player has more than 3 goals in non-power play situations (Alexei Kovalev, Christopher Higgins and Mathieu Dandenault all have three goals when not on the power play). Thus it should be clear that to defeat Montreal it is very important to not take penalties. When you take their league leading power play out of the game you have neutralized their biggest weapon. Since Montreal is 15th in the league with 78 power plays drawn this is a reasonable goal.

The Montreal Canadiens power play is the best in the NHL. It has improved with the loss of their 2006/07 top power play scorer Sheldon Souray. A large part of this credit should go to assistant coach Doug Jarvis. However, if their power play is neutralized by not taking penalties, a large portion of Montreal's offence disappears and thus the team should be very beatable.

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