Habs Notepad | Comparing Canadiens Progress With Last Season

(Photo by TVA Sports)

ROCKET SPORTS MEDIA | LAVAL, QC. — Another unsuccessful week for the Montreal Canadiens as they collected only one of the eight possible points in the standings. It all got started on Tuesday night, as the Bruins came to town and humiliated the Habs with an 8-1 winDavid Pastrnak led the charge for Boston, recording a hat trick.

On Thursday night, the Bell Centre fans got to see their team and the Devils exchange goals, however disappointed that New Jersey ended up on the winning side of the game with a 6-4 victory. “I’m frustrated as hell right now, I can tell you that much. And I’m tired of losing,” said Claude Julien post-game.

The five game home stand ended on Saturday afternoon in the same fashion as the previous four with another loss. This time it was a 4-3 loss against the Flyers in overtime. “We did a much better job,” commented the coach after the game. “We limited their scoring chances much more than we had been, especially quality chances. From that point of view, it was a step forward. We got a point, which is better than we’ve done lately.”

The team finished the month of November with a seven game losing streak. It is a sequence that the team will look to as a wasted opportunity if they miss the playoffs. The schedule for the month of November was heavily tilted in Montreal’s favour as nine of the 13 games were played at the Bell Centre and seven games with teams that are currently not in a playoff spot.

The degree of difficulty of the schedule in December is the complete opposite of November. Montreal will be on the road for 10 of the 14 games and nine of them against opponents that currently hold a playoff spot. It won’t be an easy task.

They started December on the wrong foot on Sunday as the lost to the Bruins and extended the winless streak to eight games. Boston beat Montreal for the second time in seven days as they scored three unanswered goals in the third period with the Bruins going on to a 3-1 win.

“I can’t stand here and tell our fans I’m happy. They want wins. We’re not winning. They don’t care about these ‘positive things’ from our team,” said an unhappy coach after the game. This loss keeps Montreal currently out of a playoff spot.

The Canadiens start off the week with a couple of home games as they host the Islanders on Tuesday and the Avalanche on Thursday. Immediately following the contest against Colorado, the team will fly to New York to play the Rangers on Friday.

Last Thursday was Thanksgiving Day in the United States, which has served as a measure of a team’s likelihood to make the playoffs. We will take a look at how the Habs stack up so far into 2019-20 season and use last year as a benchmark. Montreal played it’s 27th game of the season last year on December 2nd.

Division Standings

Through 27 games this season, the team has a record of 11 wins, 10 losses, and six losses in extra time, for a total of 28 points. This puts them one point behind the amount of points that they had at this point in the 2018-19 season. This isn’t sufficient as the result last season led them outside of a playoff picture.

The difficulty of the opposition has been identical as last year. In both seasons, the Canadiens had faced 14 opponents that were in the playoffs at Montreal’s 27-game mark. Therefore, as we compare the team’s performance in different aspects, the difficulty of the opponents isn’t a factor.

Team Scoring

When I shared my 2019-20 Canadiens season predictions in before the start of the regular season, I wrote that the team’s top-six forwards would need to match last year’s career highs in order for them to have a chance to clinch the playoff spot.

Those forwards are: Tomas Tatar, Philip Danault, Brendan Gallagher, Jonathan Drouin, Max Domi and Andrew Shaw‘s replacement. Joel Armia has been the player that has primarily acted as Shaw’s replacement in the top-six.

Five of the six players have at least matched their production. Tatar, Danault, and Gallagher all have more points than at the same point last season. Armia has one more point than Shaw had at this point. Domi’s production has decreased by 10 points and Drouin have seven less points. It’s safe to say that with his absence scheduled to be at least eight weeks, Drouin won’t be able to match his totals from last season.

The results as a team are positive in this category as they have increased the goals scored from 83 to 89. The main contributing factor to the increase has been the goals scored by the defensemen. This season, the defenders have scored 17 goals, eight more compared to last year. Eight is the number of goals that Shea Weber has put the puck in the opponent’s net. Last season, Weber had only played three games and hadn’t scored.

Team Defence

The team’s defence was in the spotlight last week as it struggled immensely. The Canadiens have allowed four goals or more in six of their last eight games. In their last four home games, they allowed a total of 24 goals, a new franchise mediocrity record.

Bad decisions led to allowing odd-man rushes, breakaways, and turnovers. “The way we’re playing without the puck the breakdowns and again, the picking up the wrong man, or making the wrong decision and, you know, bad line changes coming at the bench at the wrong time,” was the coach’s assessment following the game against the Devils.

In the game against New Jersey, it felt like the Devils were getting an odd-man rush every minute. Based on what we saw in the game against the Flyers and Bruins, I would think that on Friday’s off-ice practice, the coaching staff instructed the defenders to be more cautious before deciding to be pinch in the offensive zone. The only positives from this weekend was that they tightened their play defensively.

Since the start of the season, they have allowed a total of 96 goals, an increase of eight versus 2018-19. The team has been missing a top left defenceman since the loss of Andrei Markov. A need that Marc Bergevin hasn’t been able to address.

All indications show that Julien has lost confidence in Brett Kulak and Mike Reilly, as they were both healthy scratches for the game against the Flyers in favour of Gustav Olofsson, freshly recalled from Laval. With all due respect to Olofsson, he isn’t the solution to team’s defensive struggles. The coach agrees given Olofsson’s average of 9:10 ice time over the weekend.

Victor Mete suffered an upper-body injury on Saturday that forced him to miss Sunday’s game. Depending on the severity of the injury, this can be a big loss to the team that already is a weak at that position.

Goaltending

Carey Price was also in the spotlight from analysts and the team’s fan base during the team’s eight game winless streak. We’re used to seeing the Canadiens goalie covering his team’s mistakes, and not used to see him in a slump with the rest of his teammates. When he was pulled from the game against Boston, it was the first time in 112 consecutive starts. It was the fifth longest streak in the NHL since 1967.

If we look at the numbers, Price’s numbers are almost identical to last season. This season, he has a 10-9-3 record, 3.18 goals against average, and .898 save percentage in his 22 starts. A year ago, he had a 8-8-4 record, 3.05 goals against average, and .898 save percentage in 20 starts.

If you’re concerned about his November numbers, you don’t need to be. They are the same as November 2018, and the goalie put up stellar performance for the balance of the season.

Price November stats

The concern in goaltending is the backup position. The signing of Keith Kinkaid was supposed to be for him to play between 25 and 30 games to allow the starting goalie to be at his best. The results so far haven’t been conclusive as Antti Niemi‘s numbers at this point were superior to Kinkaid’s.

It’s also concerning that it appears that the coaching staff doesn’t have confidence in Kinkaid. Last season, Niemi would always play in one of the games on back to back situations. That is until they lost confidence in him in the second half of the season. This year, we’ve already seen Price play in consecutive starts.

Special Teams

Last season, one of the factors that led to a missed playoff spot was the power play. There has been an improvement this season as they have increased their success rate from 14.9 percent to 18.8. They are currently ranked 16th in the NHL.

This year, the penalty kill has been a struggle as the success rate has decreased from 78.4 percent to 73.2. They are currently ranked 30th in the NHL.

Several analysts say that the addition of the power play and penalty kill success rates should total at least 100 percent for it to be considered good. This means that the special teams haven’t been good in Montreal since the start of last season.

How does the season end?

Is it just me or does this season feel like a rerun of last year? If all stays the same, the ending will be the same. The General Manager needs to find a way for his team to make the post season, or else I think that he will be looking for a new job during the off season.

By Chris G., Senior Writer
All Habs Hockey Magazine
Copyright © 2019 Rocket Sports

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