Okay, okay, the old coach in me is coming out. We have read a few times, particularly on Twitter, that Shea Weber should not be on the Canadiens’ power play. These folks only look at his passing abilities or his foot speed, which we can all agree are not his strengths. But what are Weber’s strengths? If you ask Subbanistas, he doesn’t have any. But if you ask hockey people, NHL players, coaches, GM’s and analysts, they’ll tell you that he has three dominant qualities that stand out: his shutdown abilities, his physical play (difficult to play against) and, last but not least, his shot! And that’s where his usefulness is key on the man advantage. It’s not just a good shot, it’s a heavy and fast one that scares not only goalies, but every player in front of the net. You don’t believe me? Ask Brendan Gallagher…
It’s been more than a few times that we read people on Twitter calling for Weber to be removed from the Canadiens’ man advantage units. Often, it’s the same couple who repeat their narratives. No, they’re not your traditional Weber haters (for the most part). But in their comments, you can see that they have either never played a higher level of hockey, or have never coached and dissected what makes a power play tick. They have never played goal and had to deal with people with blasting shots either.
So allow me to show you why he’s such a key component to the Canadiens’ power play.
When I started watching hockey, and for the longest time, teams were deploying power plays the same way they played at five-on-five. Meaning that they had three forwards down low and/or in front of the net, and two defensemen side by side at the blue line. Teams finding themselves short-handed developed strategies to counter that positioning by “forming a box”. With the arrival of videos, combined with the improvement in athleticism of goaltenders with better and bigger equipment, having a man advantage wasn’t so much an advantage anymore.
Coaches became more creative in their approach in order to counter that defensive box. That’s when the “umbrella” deployment came about. It consists of one man high by the blue line, or the power play quarterback, with two options to pass on top of each faceoffs’ circle, with two men down low ready to screen and take rebounds. No only could the point-man shoot the puck, but he could set-up two options for one-timers on either side.
Most times, teams will put a right-hand shot to the left and a left-hand shot to the right, for ease of the one-timer shot. For the Canadiens, Weber being right-handed is situated to the left, where Alexander Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos love to be. Notice that he’s also closer to the goaltender and when you shoot the puck at over 105 mph, a goalie can hope that the puck hits him, and not in a place that hurts. With that kind of velocity from close range, if he manages to stop the puck, it is very unlikely that he will be able to control the rebound.
Once again, teams adjusted to the Ovechkins and Webers of this world and defenses cheated towards them in an attempt to cut the passes or be close not to let them time to shoot. More creative teams realized that when teams cheated like that, it opened up some space in the high slot. They moved one of the low men by the goal line as an option for a pass. That man then has four options, depending on how the defense reacts:
- Serve as a bumper by immediately “bumping” the pass to the player in the high slot for a short one-timer
- Pass across in front of the net to the player on the far left, who moves closer, to move the goalie laterally
- Take the puck to the net themselves
- Pass back tot he player on the left, closer to him, to set up again and move the defense
As you can see, there are three options of pass to Weber on a one-timer. If defenders cheat towards him, it should, in theory, open up either the point shot or the bumper pass.
So having Weber there as an option forces the opposition to pay more attention to him. Someone with a lesser shot wouldn’t get as much coverage, therefore tightening the opposition’s defensive stance up the middle, not fearing the option of a one-timer as much from that position. Weber being there makes the defense aware as a very dangerous weapon, one that can not only hurt by scoring, but by blasting a defender or your goalie with a risk of injury. Weapons aren’t only for firing. They can be as effective as deterrents. Remove him from the Canadiens’ man advantage and the opposition will be grateful. You would be taking the “power” out of the power play.
So the next time you read the narrative of some fan trying to convince anyone that Weber should be removed from the power play, do as I do. Smile and move on to the next post, the next tweet. It’s like someone without knowledge of war tactics telling the army not to use tanks in times of war because they’re too slow. Weber is one tool, one weapon, and an important one at that. You want to cut his minutes? Fine, it’s your opinion and one that can be defended, unlike the claim that the power play would be better off without him. Go Habs Go!