by PuckStopsHere on 11/21/08 at 04:02 PM ET
The Montreal Canadiens are one of the better teams in hockey. I picked them to win the East Conference this season (which was not an uncommon prediction). So far this season, Montreal has done well, but they haven’t taken the East Conference by storm. They currently sit in fifth place in the East Conference with an 11-7 record (with two regulation tie points). That is a solid start. If the team gets hot in the stretch run, they may manage a first place finish in the East.
However in the Montreal market, the media tend to overanalyze things. This start is not as good as expected. Worse, their power play which has been the league’s best for the past two years is not at the top of the league. They sit in 22nd place with a 15.7% power play success rate (compare this with their 24.1% power play efficiency last year). This is something for the media to fret about.
Montreal has had a very good power play despite changes in personnel. Sheldon Souray was lost to free agency in 2007 and Mark Streit replaced him on their first unit. Streit left as a free agent this summer. This leaves Montreal with a top power play unit that consists of Alex Tanguay, Alexei Kovalev, Saku Koivu and Andrei Markov and open auditions for the fifth role. Tomas Plekanec has had more playing time than anyone else in this unit. This leaves a forward Alex Tanguay manning the power play point along with Andrei Markov. That is not a problem of any sort. Tanguay has manned the point on the power play successfully in other cities in the past. But one thing is clear. The power play has a lower success rate so far this year than it has in the past.
In a Kukla’s Korner member’s blog Slasher98 is quick to attribute this change in power play personnel to the decline in fortunes. I don’t buy that explanation. Replacing Mark Streit with Alex Tanguay should not reduce the number of goals scored. Tanguay is a good scorer - likely better than Streit. So what is the problem?
If we look at the power play stats, it is easy to notice that it is still very early in the season. The Detroit Red Wings lead the league with a ridiculous 34.2% success rate. This is better than 40% better than any team managed last season. It appears unsustainably high. Sure Detroit added Marian Hossa in the off season, but that cannot possibly explain a 65% increase in power play success rate (last year Detroit was 3rd in the league at 20.7%). If we assume that Detroit’s power play is about as good as any team in the league managed last season, they should regress to an around 24% success rate over the course of the season. That would mean that circumstance and good luck have them running 10% above where they might likely finish up. That isn’t too unreasonable given the Red Wings have had 79 power play opportunities this season so far. It only takes a handful of extra power play goals to explain most of their increase in power play efficiency.
As for the Montreal Canadiens, they have 14 goals on 89 power play opportunities. Let’s assume that they have a handful of unlucky power plays that should have been goals (i.e. they have five less goals than they should). That would give the Habs a 21.3% power play efficiency, which is much more reasonable. This error of five goals is not unreasonable.(were the situation experimental physics - the error in a counting number such as the number of power play goals would be likely assumed to be the square root the number of power play goals—in this case that is 4.4 goals). It is too early to decide there is something wrong with the Montreal Canadiens power play. It is quite reasonable at this point to assume that, aside for bad luck on a handful of power plays, they have one of the best power plays in the league.
There is reason to expect the Montreal Canadiens may not be quite as strong as it was last season. Last season, they were led on the power play by Alexei Kovalev who scored a league leading 47 power play points. Kovalev is a streaky player who is 35 years old. His 84 points last year was his best offensive season since 2000/01. It is very likely his totals will drop this season. Sure enough that seems to be happening. He has 14 points in 18 games so far - including 6 power play points. That would project to 27 power play points over the season (a dropoff of 20 from last season). This is a drop that is expected and understood and unlikely to be replaceable (you can’t easily acquire the top power play point scorer in the league).
It is early in the season. That is clear when looking at power play success rates. Teams have less than 100 power play opportunities so far. The uncertainty in power play efficiencies due to random circumstance is quite large. Most likely, Montreal will wind up with a much higher power play efficiency than they have now and Detroit a lower one. There is no need for Montreal to rush out and find a power play point man to fix things. Markov and Tanguay are good power play point men and should be fine. However in the Montreal media, everything is analyzed to the nth degree. If an early panic about an apparent decline in the power play to worry fans about a solid 5th place in the East Conference team grabs attention, then the panic will happen. It will be led by the overactive Montreal media. There is no underlying problem worthy of any panic.
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