Puck77 Mailbag: Can Josh Fix The Habs Power-Play?

It’s time for another Dear Josh mailbag! 

Montreal Canadiens

Question: Can you fix the Habs’ power-play? (From @Potsy_70)

Answer: If I knew how to do this, Montréal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson probably would have called me by now and offered me a job.

Unfortunately for Canadiens fans, the Habs power-play is the worst unit in the NHL (you know it’s bad when the Los Angeles Kings have a better power-play unit). At this point in the season, the Habs’ power-play percentage is 11.9%.

Honestly, the Habs power-play percentage might be better if they went with one dominant unit and one mediocre unit. Right now, head coach Claude Julien has spread his talent out onto two different units. For his first unit, he’s penciled in Jordan Weal, Phillip Danault, Brendan Gallagher, Shea Weber and Jonathan Drouin. On his second unit, he has Paul Byron, Max Domi, Andrew Shaw, Tomas Tatar and Jeff Petry.

If I were running the show, I’d go with this formation:

Unit 1 – 

Max DomiJonathan DrouinBrendan Gallagher

Shea WeberAndrew Shaw

I chose to move Domi up to the top unit and have him play on the left side. As you can see from Sean Tierney’s shot graph (below), Domi is very comfortable shooting from the left side. Plus, he’s had an outstanding season for the Tricolore. Julien should be rewarding him with a decent chunk of time on the top power-play unit.

Before moving to Shaw, I’d like to explain why I moved Drouin to centre rather than playing on the point. With Drouin’s play-making capabilities and his puck handling, it makes more sense to have him centre this unit. In addition, you typically want goal scorers at the point. Drouin isn’t a goal scorer. He’s a play-maker. The Habs are better off putting a goal scorer on the point.

That’s where Shaw comes in. While Shaw has been rather inconsistent in his career, he’s had a resurgence this season. In addition, per Tierney’s below shot graph, you’ll see that he likes firing slap shots from beyond the face-off circles. With Shaw’s slap-shot, he seems like the best choice to plug in on the point alongside Weber.

As I mentioned above, I’d rather roll out one dominant unit than have two mediocre ones. But, I still think that the second unit can be explosive. Here is what I’d go with.

Phillip DanaultJesperi KotkaniemiJoel Armia

Tomas TatarJeff Petry

I chose to move Danault to the left side, mainly because he’s been abysmal at centre when the Habs are playing 5v4 or 5v3 hockey. But, Danault does have 9.7 S% (one of the best on the Habs), so it’s hard to keep him off of the power-play completely. In addition, I’ve added Kotkaniemi. With Kotkaniemi’s puck handling, speed and vision, it’s hard to not put him on a power-play unit. I feel that Kotkaniemi could really excel in this unit. Plus, you could plug in his Finnish buddy, Joel Armia (who he looks up to) on the right side. 

All-in-all, it might not work out, but it’s definitely worth trying.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi

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Question: What kind of numbers do you see Jesperi Kotkaniemi putting up next season? Does he make a serious jump? Or is he another Alex Galchenyuk where he plateaus at around 40 points? Or will he have a sophomore slump? (From @Dangerousjd)

Answer: Over the years, we’ve seen a lot of players blossom in their sophomore seasons. Steven Stamkos is one player who comes to mind. In his rookie season, he had 46 points. The next season, he destroyed the NHL and put up 95 points. So, anything is possible. Kotkaniemi could make a serious jump, but it depends on the forwards that he’s being paired with. He can’t be expected to be the Tom Brady of centremen. The Habs need to give him talented wingers to play with. So, let’s see how the off-season shakes out. Perhaps, the Habs add a winger like Jordan Eberle, Joe Pavelski or Jeff Skinner to play alongside the young Finnish national.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Question: Did Columbus do enough at the deadline to set themselves up for a considerable run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs? (From @TimothyRRyder)

Answer: Honestly, I feel that Columbus did too much. Prior to the trade deadline, the Blue Jackets had a solid team on paper. Then they added Matt Duchene, Adam McQuaid, Keith Kinkaid and Ryan Dzingel. While the Blue Jackets needed to make an upgrade, they needed to be careful to not mess with the team chemistry. At the deadline, you shouldn’t make multiple trades. You should make one or two deals, but adding four new players hurts the team’s chemistry. I feel that the Blue Jackets’ team chemistry will slow them down in the playoffs. I’m not sure they’ll make it out of the first round. They might be down in Myrtle Beach after round 1.

Anders Nilsson

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Question: What would it take to trade Anders Nilsson to the Habs or to the Leafs? (From @LaVieEnBleu108)

Answer: Given that Nilsson is a UFA at the end of the season, it’s going be tough for the Ottawa Senators to trade his rights. But, perhaps, the Habs will look at signing Nilsson on July 1. The Habs backup net-minder, Antti Niemi has been awful in net. It’s hard to trust Niemi in key situations. Imagine if Carey Price gets hurt again, would you want Niemi covering for him? 

For the Toronto Maple Leafs, I can’t see Nilsson signing in Toronto on July 1. The Leafs have locked up Garret Sparks for another season. Plus, if they wanted to sign another goalie, they could look at signing Michael Hutchinson to a new deal. Hutchinson would most likely be cheaper to sign than Nilsson.

Chicago Blackhawks

Question: Should the Blackhawks bring back Niklas Hjalmarsson for next season or look to bring Erik Karlsson to Chicago? (From @JennyP7214)

Answer: The Blackhawks should definitely look at potentially re-acquiring Niklas Hjalmarsson. While adding Erik Karlsson would be a great move by the Blackhawks front office, they’d have to fork over a blank check. 

The only issue in adding Hjammer is that the Blackhawks might have to trade Connor Murphy and/or Brandon Saad to pull that off. That might sound like a lot to acquire Hjalmarsson, but they wouldn’t be moving them to just acquire the Swedish defenseman. They would be doing so to create cap space. The Blackhawks have quite a bit of expiring contracts over the next few years (Dylan Sikura, Dylan Strome, Dominik Kahun, Alex DeBrincat, Brendan Perlini and John Hayden) and Stan Bowman will need to lock those players up on new deals. 

But, I do think re-acquiring Hjalmarsson would be a smart move. He’s been effective in Chicago in the past and plus he’d be a solid mentor for Swedish prospect, Adam Boqvist.

Buffalo Sabres

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Question: While I was excited about Buffalo, I was never convinced, and I think a 3 game shutout kind of supports my apprehension. So, Is Phil Housley gone? And, if so, where would one look for a replacement? (From @Quinntessence)

Answer: I’ve always hated the idea of hiring players who have played for the organization to coach. Look at what happened with Adam Oates in Washington. I’m sure there are a few Capitals fans who are a bit bitter about that experiment. Plus, when he doesn’t succeed as a coach, you forget about what he did for the team when he played there. 

But, I’m not sure that it’s time to pull the plug on Housley just yet. The Sabres’ biggest issue is secondary scoring. The Sabres don’t have a true number two centre. While Casey Mittelstadt could potentially be that number two centre, he hasn’t looked like a number two centre this season. In 68 games, he’s posted 10 goals and 11 assists. It’s also worth noting that a decent chunk of his success has come on the power-play. 

If the Sabres can find a number two centre this off-season, I think you’ll see a much improved Sabres squad next season. 

Coach’s Corner

Question: When Don Cherry is done with Coach’s Corner, what should happen to the segment? End the segment? Or replace him with Scotty Bowman, Joel Quennneville or Mike Keenan? (From @Apocalyse709)

Answer: That’s a tough question. While Don Cherry has been criticized quite a bit this season, he’s done a lot for the hockey community and I’m not sure anyone will truly be able to replace him. From a commentary point of view, Joel Quenneville makes the most sense. You need a likable coach and Quenneville is well-respected across the NHL. If Quenneville doesn’t want the gig, perhaps, Edmonton Oilers head coach, Ken Hitchcock might be a good second option.

Elizabeth’s (My fiancée) Question

Question: How is hockey *not* soccer on ice?

Answer: Oy vey. Thanks babe. Love you.

stats from hockey-reference.com, foxsports.com, moneypuck.com

visuals from Sean Tierney


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