It’s been a fairy tale type season for the Montreal Canadiens thus far and we’re getting a glimpse of what is in store for us in the future. Needless to say, the Habs are ahead of last year’s pace with a health 75 points (last season at the 62 game mark they had 65 points) and should not run into the same slump as they did last season with the flu or any major injuries. With that being said, there have been some disconcerting issues that are starting to creep into their game of late. Even the players are starting to get frustrated with their own deficiencies.
“From one game to another, you never know what kind of team we are going to be” Maxim Lapierre told La Presse.
There has to be a bigger commitment by the players to play a more solid two way game which they are capable of doing, the goals will come off turnovers and the counter rush which this team is very good at exploiting. If you look at the teams that have had playoff success, the common factor is solid defense with timely offense and great goaltending, something the Canadiens haven’t been guilty of the past few games.
“We made one or two mistakes”, acknowledged Roman Hamrlik after the 5-4 loss to the Penguins, “and we took some bad penalties. We have to tighten our defense. This is not at all our style. “
Don’t get me wrong as I don’t want to be negative concerning what has been a very good season. The players have given us some great moments like the “miracle comeback” against the Ranger the other night. Their play has been beyond what any Canadiens supporter would have expected after years of mediocrity but there has to be some adjustment to their play before the playoffs start after April 5th. Let’s take a look at the areas of concern that will need to be improved before the playoffs get under way.
The Canadiens penalty killing unit has been ranked in the bottom third of the league for most of the season (they’re ranked 21st with 80.5%) and have given up five powerplay goals (5/10 or 50%) the last two games. With such former great PK specialists as Doug Jarvis, Guy Carbonneau or even Kirk Muller as their coaches, you’d think the unit would be better than they are at the present time. Is it a question of not having the right players or their lack of aggression on the puckhandler, it’s a puzzle!!! Guy Carbonneau has used his more offensive players like Alex Kovalev, Tomas Plekanec and Saku Koivu who are defensively responsible but might be getting tired with the extra duty on the PK and PP.
Defensive Zone Coverage or Lack There Of
10 goals against the last two games!!!!! That’s not playoff type hockey and if the Canadiens expect to advance far into the playoff this season with a wide open Eastern Conference, then the coaching staff has to find a way to have the players buy into a more defensive system.
The forwards have been guilty of not back checking when they get caught up ice thinking offense while the defense is left with an odd man rush on the counter attack. There have also been some serious giveaways in the defensive zone (Kovalev and Komisarek were guilty of some against the Pens but they were alone) which needs to be addressed…….no trade will solve this problem just hard work!!!
Where did the Goaltending go?
Upon returning from his 10 game stint at Hamilton, Carey Price has looked solid in the nets with three straight wins against the the Panthers and Flyers but looked only ordinary against the Rangers when he was yanked after surrendering 3 goals on 11 shots (he didn’t get much support from his fellow Habs).
How things can change in a blink of an eye, great goaltending can hide a lot of other deficiencies in a team’s game and the reverse can be said as well. Unfortunately, both aspects of the Habs game are faltering with Huet and Price having had peaks and valleys throughout the season which is only normal for goaltenders. At times, they haven’t been afforded a lot of support from their teammates in front of them.
Without stellar or at least steady goaltending, no team will win a Stanley Cup let alone a playoff round……….both Huet and Price have to find a level of consistency for the remainder of the season otherwise a very promising season and potential playoff run will disappear in a blink of an eye.
In conclusion, it isn’t time to press the panic button as the Canadiens are in the hunt for the Eastern Conference title being only one point behind Ottawa and have won 4 of their last 5 games but it’s the way they have played the last two games which needs to stop. The main focus should be to go into the playoffs on a winning note and hopefully rectify the defensive aspect of their game with solid playoff style hockey.