Montreal Canadien Alex Galchenyuk checks Buffalo Sabre Jochen Hecht.
Admittedly, the Montreal Canadiens have been very good so far this season. So much so, in fact, that finding weaknesses in their game is kind of like grasping at straws, miles away from an actual farm.
Goaltending? Check. Carey Price has been great.
Scoring? Check. If even Rene Bourque is getting in on the action, it’s anything but a bad sign.
Defense? With P.K. Subban back and Raphael Diaz taking his game to another level, there are about as many holes in Montreal’s corps as there are Tomas Kaberles.
Coaching? As much as rehiring Michel Therrien may have been a mistake, the team’s record so far and the success of rookies Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk is making him look like the reincarnation of Toe Blake, minus the fedora, which he probably could use, though.
Nevertheless, Montreal can ill afford to remain complacent. Currently in a playoff spot, the team should address the following five weaknesses to guarantee itself of one.
Montreal Canadiens Goalie Peter Budaj in front of Ottawa Senator Milan Michalek.
It’s oddly enough one of the few major statistical categories in which Montreal doesn’t place in the top 10 in the league. While 80 percent is usually considered the mark that separates the good peanlty-killing teams from the bad, and Montreal makes the cut up until now, there’s always room for improvement.
Perhaps the arrival of P.K. Subban will help matters here. In his first game back against the Buffalo Sabres, the Habs were a perfect 6-for-6 on the penalty kill.
Of course, they did give up a short-handed goal to Thomas Vanek, but the power play, which scored two goals in the win, has been about as much of a problem this year as the emotional drain from winning all the time.
Montreal Canadien Ryan White against Ottawa Senator Zack Smith.
Somewhere out there, Ryan White is hitting himself, which—one can only imagine, considering his tough-guy role—must hurt a lot.
A mere three days after he took two penalties against the Ottawa Senators, including an ill-advised unsportsmanlike one for arguing a call (and excluding a fighting major earlier in the game), White was a healthy scratch against the Sabres.
That’s bad enough.
The worse part? During his two penalties in the Ottawa game, the Habs were scored on twice over a span of two minutes to break the game wide open, leading to a 5-1 defeat. The worst part? Montreal did one better than Ottawa, beating Buffalo 6-1 without White in the lineup.
Not only does Montreal clearly not need him (at least that’s one possible conclusion that can be derived from the night-and-day performances), but he obviously missed an incredible opportunity to score against a weak Buffalo team himself…and those come around for him only as often as there is a really bad goalie starting for the other team (sorry, Ryan Miller, but have you seen your stat line over the last few games…or the puck for that matter?).
Under such circumstances, it’s easy to lay the blame on White for what is becoming a serious problem. While he may actually enjoy being the poster child for the team’s lack of discipline (when else will he get the chance to be on a poster?), Montreal, as a team, is in the bottom 10 for times shorthanded on the season.
It’s a problem that benching White unfortunately won’t solve.
Sure, Montreal won impressively in this particular instance, but it’s only a matter of time before the Habs’ indiscipline comes back to bite them—in the figurative sense, that is.
Former Senator Jarkko Ruutu is currently playing in Finland, FYI.
Buffalo Sabres goalie Jhonas Enroth lets one past him against Montreal.
Montreal has outscored opponents 8-3 in the first period and 10-8 in the second so far this season. In the third, Montreal is even at 5-5.
Now, normally, this wouldn’t be all that big of an issue, seeing as the Habs are 5-2 and the end typically justifies the means.
However, as a case study, take the 6-1 thrashing of Buffalo. Montreal outshot the Sabres 15-1 in the first period, and then Buffalo outshot Montreal 12-6 and 18-11 in the remaining two periods. Clearly there is a trend here that needs to be rectified moving forward.
Admittedly, by the end of the second period, with the score 4-0, there was little fight left in the Sabres and they weren’t likely to come back and get to overtime, let alone win in regulation. In theory, though, shouldn’t that have made it easier for the Habs to keep the foot on the pedal?
Running up the score is not necessarily the end game here. It’s simply not letting opposing teams get back into the game.
The first against the Sabres was as close to a perfect period as a team can play. Of course, the Habs likely would have preferred to put a few more on the board, but from a quality-of-play perspective, it is the measuring stick to which each subsequent 20 minutes of play this season should be measured.
That isn’t to say fans should expect the Habs to reach 15 shots on goal every period or limit the opposition to a single one, just that the Habs themselves should acknowledge that they’re capable of it.
The start of a game is important and arguably more important than finishing strong, seeing as a few early goals puts you in position to win in the first place. However, if Montreal truly is a playoff team, they’ll nip this in the bud or risk all their games becoming just as exciting for all the wrong reasons.
Nashville Predator Mike Fisher and St. Louis Blue Andy McDonald take a faceoff.
Through Saturday’s win against Buffalo, Tomas Plekanec was averaging a faceoff winning percentage of 46.1 per game. David Desharnais the same. Galchenyuk? Just slightly better at 47.9 percent.
As a result, Montreal as a team is averaging a winning percent less than 50 and is in the bottom 10 in the league in that statistical category.
Before you cite the 6-1 final score against Buffalo as a reason as to why they don’t matter, the Sabres are actually worse than Montreal. In fact, faceoffs are one of the most underrated facets of a hockey game.
You admittedly can’t win a game from a single faceoff, but you do gain possession of the puck, and you can’t be scored upon if you have the puck. That's simple logic—unless of course you’re general manager Marc Bergevin.
An Ottawa Senator literally jumps over a Montreal Canadien.
In regard to not just faceoffs, Montreal is actually pretty weak down the middle. While that can be taken to mean David Desharnais, as a supposed top-line center, isn’t pulling his weight, it’s his actual weight that is the problem.
In fact, both he and Tomas Plekanec, at 177 and 198 pounds respectively, will likely never win any pie-eating contests. When the 6’1”, 198-pound Galchenyuk is your biggest pivot down the middle, it’s kind of a big deal, pun not intended.
Even pugnacious fourth-line center Ryan White is smaller than Galchenyuk. Hell, even winger Brandon Prust, on whom Galchenyuk and Gallagher are supposed to rely to protect them from the advances of overenthusiastic opponents, is smaller (than Galchenyuk; No one is smaller than Gallagher).
Bottom line: The Flash can actually die from going too fast. Kryptonite kills Superman. Batman has, well, bullets. The Montreal Canadiens? Inches.
It’s actually a weakness that can be controlled, but, year after year, they refuse to fix it. Thankfully, Galchenyuk will eventually fill out, but until he does, the Smurf jokes will inevitably continue.