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Sad Truth About the Montreal Canadiens Struggling Powerplay


The playoffs are filled with emotion: The ecstasy of Joel Ward’s last second goal, the jubilation of Calgary’s Game 6 comeback and the euphoria of Brent Seabrook’s triple overtime blast. But emotion is not always boisterous. Emotion can sometimes be heard loud and clear in the silence of a 21,000-seat arena.

On Sunday evening, the Bell Centre faithful felt either embarrassed, disappointed or, dare I say, sad. Their beloved Canadiens frittered away three more powerplays including an opportune man-advantage a minute into the game while the Lightning responded by potting four powerplay goals behind Carey Price. Montreal’s ineffectual powerplay is now 0-6 in the series and 1-26 (or 3.8%) during the 2014-15 playoffs.

Montreal’s powerplay ranked 23rd during the regular season with a 16.5% success rate. Despite solid numbers by their Norris nominee P.K. Subban, the powerplay unit has seen a steady decline from their top quartile showing in 2012-13 when they scored on more than 20% of their opportunities. And now they are mired in a stretch of underperformance at the worst possible time. Before I speak too harshly, I thought I should check to see how powerplay performance differs between the regular season and playoffs. Maybe everyone goes through their own playoff struggle.

The chart below takes a look at the combined season-by-season power play effectiveness of all the teams that qualified for the playoffs. The orange bars represent the regular season and the black line is each playoff’s combined powerplay result.

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There are a couple of seasons (2006-07 and 2012-13) in which regular season numbers far exceed the playoffs, but the playoff performance tracks the regular season results fairly well. Since 2005-06, for teams qualifying for the playoffs, the combined powerplay success rate is 18.8% during the regular season and 17.6% for the playoffs. So, the playoffs itself contributes to a 1% drop in expected powerplay goals. But what about the other 12-13% that the Canadiens have fallen

The next chart includes a dot for each team since 2005-06 that qualified for the playoffs and had at least 25 playoff powerplay opportunities. A dot is placed at the intersection of each team’s regular season and playoff powerplay percentage. The Canadiens are represented with the red dot and the Lightning, for comparison, is blue.

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The orange line separates the results into two groups: Those who have improved their powerplay during the playoffs (i.e., above the line) and those who have seen their power play numbers diminish (i.e., below the line). The distance between the orange line and the dot is the relative increase or decrease compared to the regular season.

The green line, on the other hand, is specific to the 2014-15 Canadiens – all teams below the green line saw a larger drop than Montreal in powerplay percentage from the regular season to the playoffs. Yes, with the exception of some rounding, I only see two out of 111 teams below the green line. This indicates that the powerplay hasn’t simply been poor, but its sad postseason decline is among the worst of the past ten seasons.

So, you get it. I know. You don’t need to be reminded of how poor Montreal’s powerplay has been during the playoffs. You’re already sad as it is. It’s not like the Canadiens have been eliminated. Just ask San Jose, there are no sure fire series leads. And, if I remember, Montreal still skates Carey Price onto the ice every night. But can the team still win in spite of their powerplay woes? Or will they need to find an answer in order to eliminate Tampa Bay?

To demonstrate, I used the data from the previous chart but only included teams that survived until the Conference Finals.

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Assuming that the powerplay remains stagnant, there are two factors that are not in Montreal’s favour. First of all, no team since 2005-06 among the final four combatants has seen a bigger playoff powerplay depression than the Canadiens. But, secondly, it’s the combination of this decline and the fact they weren’t a strong regular season power play group to begin with. Only five teams from the past nine Conference Finals (i.e., 36 teams) have had a worse regular season power play percentage than Montreal’s. And four of those teams saw improvements in their powerplay (i.e., above the orange line) once into the playoffs.

Sadly for Canadiens fans, the results indicate that Montreal will have a tough row to hoe without seeing a dramatic upturn in the performance of their powerplay unit. The Bell Centre expressed their silence on Sunday. It’s now Montreal’s turn to silence the critics and defy the historical data. 

Bob Sullivan writes periodically for SportingCharts.com and can be followed on Twitter at @mrbobsullivan.



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