The Montreal Canadiens have struggled this season. Despite good goaltending from starter Carey Price and a collection of players that includes some quality and some youth—and even some youthful quality—the Canadiens have played .500 hockey through 28 games this year.
In this NHL, .500 hockey puts Montreal last in their division and 10th in the Eastern Conference. They are currently still only one point out of a playoff spot.
Montreal has been relatively tight defensively. They are 10th in the league, giving up 2.43 goals per game. Their offense, however, has sputtered. They are 24th in scoring, putting an identical 2.43 goals a game into other teams' nets.
The addition of power forward Eric Cole and the maturation of Max Pacioretty seem to have improved Montreal's five-on-five offense. Unfortunately, the power play, which had been a saviour for the team the last few years, has been abysmal this season.
They have scored a mere 13 goals on the power play so far this year. League-leading Vancouver has 30.
Throw in the four short-handed goals the team has given up and the picture looks even worse. Their 11.8 percent success rate is fourth worst in the league. Last year's James Wisniewski-led power play finished the year with a 19.7 percent success rate and was the seventh best power play in the league.
Montreal scored 57 power-play goals last year. They are currently on pace to score 38 this year.
The last time Montreal had this much trouble with their power play occurred when Mark Streit signed with the Islanders before the 2008-09 season. His departure left les habitants without the devastating point shot that he and Sheldon Souray before him had supplied to earlier, better Montreal power plays.
The 2008-2009 Montreal team sneaked into the playoffs that year after actually tying the ninth-place Florida Panthers in points and in record. They then lost in the first round.
Montreal should have addressed the departure of Wisniewski before now, especially when the power play started as poorly as it has. The only move the team has made this season has been to bring checking center Petteri Nokelainen to address another obvious team deficiency.
Montreal seems to have been waiting for the return of veteran offensive defenseman Andrei Markov to allow them to rescue the power play from inside the organization.
Unfortunately, Andrei Markov's anticipated return was put on hold when doctors determined he would need arthroscopic surgery to remove debris from his right knee. The surgery happened in Florida on Monday.
Markov is expected to miss the next four to six weeks.
The talented blue-liner has suffered through a series of devastating Achilles and knee injuries over the past three years. His last nearly complete season was 2008-09, when he played 78 games and scored 64 points. He was lost at the end of that season to a cut Achilles tendon. He missed the playoffs and the first half of the next season as well.
He has been injured off and on ever since. He played only seven games last year before getting hurt again. The fear has to be that Andrei Markov may never be able to play at an NHL level again.
Andrei Markov will turn 33 this December 20th. Healthy NHL players often see their abilities to play hockey diminish at this age. Markov's injuries have to make it harder for him to come back and play at the level he was capable of as a 30-year-old.
Whatever the long term prognosis, Markov is out for now, and the Montreal Canadiens have a bad power play that seems to have an unfilled gap on the point. Yannick Weber has not been the answer for Montreal, and it seems that finding someone externally to fill that gap might be the difference between making the playoffs or not for what is a relatively mediocre Montreal team.
The Montreal Canadiens have back-filled at the point in the past with the likes of veteran offensive defenseman Mathieu Schneider or offensive specialist Marc Andre Bergeron. There doesn't seem to be even that level of replacement available at this time.
The Canadiens may just have to suck it up and endure a season with a weak power play. Perhaps some of the young players they have been using on the point will improve enough. Markov still might return, though that seems less likely as time goes on. He is more of a playmaker than a trigger man, so he might not even address the biggest deficiency the Canadiens are suffering from.
A mediocre Montreal Canadiens team that doesn't make the playoffs wouldn't be the end of the world. They would enter the offseason with a better amateur draft position than they have enjoyed since the last time they missed the playoffs, back in 2006-07.
That draft saw Montreal take defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who they eventually coughed up to the Rangers for Scott Gomez and Max Pacioretty. Pacioretty appears to be developing into a quality NHL power forward.
Higher draft picks don't guarantee success, however.
The Canadiens have some good young players, some quality veterans and a very good goalie. That still isn't adding up to Stanley Cup contender. The opportunity to draft the star that eventually leads them back to Stanley Cup relevance is hard to pass up.
Maybe finishing 13th or 14th in the East this year is just what Montreal needs to find that player and take a step forward in the NHL.
Whatever the case, solving Montreal's power-play problems doesn't look to be easy and Andrei Markov won't be part of the solution until the new year.
By then, it might be too late for Montreal's season.