For the Montreal Canadiens, power play goals used to come with such ease, or so it always seemed. Man-advantage markers were the key to Montreal’s success. They’re always there to extend a lead or get the team back in a game they had otherwise been outplayed in.
But after two seasons of relying on the league’s best power play, the Habs are sputtering with the extra man. Sheldon Souray’s bombs and Mark Streit’s sneaky-hard shot from the right point are now a distant memory. Montreal’s power play, has a 14.4 percent efficiency rating and ranked twenty-third in the NHL after Saturday night’s action.
So, what to do with the punchless unit?
A lot of talk is centered on Alex Kovalev’s lack of production and rightly so. Kovalev’s money-shot move last year was to jet out from the half-board and either fire a shot just under the crossbar or shoot a pass to an open teammate for a back-door tip-in.
This year, the veteran Russian has just one power play goal and hasn’t provided any kind of real threat when Montreal is on the man advantage.
Kovalev’s struggles aside, the Habs still have the potential to ice a potent power play.
A tweak in terms of blueline alignment just might get things kick-started. As mentioned, former Habs Souray and Streit provided a big threat from the right side of the point. For the most part, coach Guy Carbonneau has sent forward Sergei Kostitsyn to that slot this year, while putting quarterback Andrei Markov on the left side.
Flipping those two players is the key to injecting some life into this unit. Markov has a better shot than anybody on the team and that makes him more suited to playing the right side, where, as a left-handed shot, he can hammer one-timers fed to him from the left side.
Right now, opponents don’t have to respect the point shot, so they can devote their resources to blanketing Kovalev and covering guys down low. Markov can still send passes all over the ice from the right side, except, on occasion, he can also unleash a vicious, low slapshot that will keep the opposition honest.
It’s a small switch, but one that could have tremendous impact.
This column also appears in the Montreal Metro newspaper.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Fridays.
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