Have you heard the one about the Habs PP?
The Habs power play is so bad, they're going to change the goal song to "Hallelujah" if they ever score.
The Habs power play is so awful, P.K.Subban is getting an audition for The Walking Dead.
When the Habs practice their PP, the orange cones on the ice usually kill it off.
The Habs power play sucks so hard NASA has added it as a known black hole.
You know a hockey team has issues when the jokes start to flow, and the laughs at the Canadiens' pathetic power play are flooding in like high tide. Sixteen games into this season, it ranks 28th in the league, with a whopping 7.1% success rate. Compare that to Pittsburgh's league-leading 35.6%, and you can see things in Montreal have passed "needs tweaking" and gone straight to "needs a complete overhaul."
Part of the problem, of course, is the never-changing personnel. Almost without exception, every PP starts with Andrei Markov, P.K.Subban, David Desharnais, Max Pacioretty and whatever winger is currently on their line. Right now, that's P.A.Parenteau. Pacioretty and Desharnais get 2:25 of ice time per game with the man advantage. That's a grand total of 37:45 so far this year, which is 53% of the total 71:11 the Habs have spent on the power play. In theory, that's a good idea. Last year those guys were first and third in team scoring. Unfortunately, however, you have to shoot to score. And neither Pacioretty nor Desharnais shoots the puck on the PP.
Pacioretty leads the Canadiens with 57 shots on goal. Desharnais is third on the team with 47. Yet, on the power play, they've taken a combined five shots...three for Pacioretty and two for Desharnais. That's in nearly 40 minutes each. Pacioretty puts up 19% fewer points on the PP, when you average points per minutes of play, than he does at even strength. In fact, he's got more points shorthanded. If, as the myth goes, opponents key on Markov and Subban, limiting their point shots, then the forwards should be firing every chance they get. Instead, we see them passing the puck around until it gets intercepted and cleared.
The other problem is net presence. Aside from Brendan Gallagher, who now gets less PP time...and none on the first wave because he's not playing on the Desharnais line anymore...nobody on the ice goes to the net. On many nights, the puck is on the stick of a guy behind the net, with both wingers standing along the boards. Power play goals are often scored on a big point shot. If chances from the point are limited, teams score by shooting a ton and crowding the crease. If they don't do those things, they're not going to do very well.
Right now, the Habs are winning despite their lack of PP success. That won't last. Of the top fifteen highest-scoring teams, all but two (Kings and Rangers) score between 20 and 40 percent of their goals on the power play. The Canadiens are at 8.3%. If the opponent has a working PP, they have an instant advantage in any game against Montreal. While the Canadiens are strong on the PK, eighth in the league, they're also 28th in the league for penalties taken. Sooner or later, a good PP will score, given enough chances. If the Habs can't reply, they're going to start losing games.
The lack of scoring with the man advantage doesn't just hurt the team on the scoreboard. It also causes bigger problems. If you've got a popgun PP, opponents will take liberties, knowing they can intimidate without concern about paying the price while they're shorthanded. Milan Lucic isn't one to hold back when he wants to hurt someone at the best of times. Knowing nothing will happen to him if he does can only make his behaviour worse. That kind of thing puts the Habs at a psychological disadvantage because Brandon Prust can't fight everyone, and the rest of the Canadiens end up thinking about the other team's tactics instead of just playing.
Michel Therrien has had nearly a year of watching this powerless PP and has yet to address the problems. His insistence on always using the same lines that play at even strength doesn't work with the man advantage. Alex Galchenyuk, for example, is arguably the most creative player on the team. This season, he's also willing to crash the net. Those are two skills not overly visible in Pacioretty that could conceivably help create goals. Yet, Galchenyuk gets less than two minutes a night on the PP. Dale Weise gets none, but he'd go to the net and stay there bothering the goalie if he did. He'd at least offer the opposing defencemen something to do other than block Desharnais' passes. The point is, changing personnel can't actually hurt this PP and is, at this stage, the sensible thing to do.
It would also be worth experimenting with a formation other than the 1-3-1 that hasn't been working for a year now. One thing's certain: the time for hoping the situation will miraculously correct itself is over. A coach's job is to make sure a team is functioning to the best of its ability. The Canadiens have skill, and the PP should be a good chance for them to use it to advantage. That they're not means Therrien isn't doing his job.
On the "For Dummies" website, there's a page called "Controlling a Power Play in Hockey For Dummies." It says:
"A good power play is a deadly weapon, and no team can win a championship without one. The basic idea is to move the puck among the five offensive players until one of them has an opening and can shoot. Crisp passes are essential, and so is making use of the man advantage. Get the two-on-one situations. Get the puck to the open man. Get off the shots. And be sure to take what the other team gives. If a defender comes to you, then one of your teammates is open somewhere. Try to find him. And even if you don't have the puck, make something happen. Get in the goalie's way. Look for rebounds. Keep the puck in the zone if a defender tries to shoot it out."
That's written for coaches just starting out, who are instructing kids. Basic hockey, but it's sound advice for a coach and a team that seems to have forgotten simple truths.
One way or another, something's got to give. At this point, if the Habs PP is a joke, it's not very funny.