Columbus Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson takes a shot on Montreal Canadiens goalie Peter Budaj.
In the midst of a three-game points streak, things are currently looking pretty rosy for the Montreal Canadiens this 2013-14 season. However, one need only refer back to the four-game losing streak that immediately preceded it to realize things can change pretty quickly for these Habs.
In fact, one need only look to this current points streak (2-0-1) to realize there are plenty of areas in which the Habs need to improve, with two of the games going to a shootout. With three of the team’s past five games going to the second extra frame, the Habs have arguably lacked a killer instinct recently.
Delving a bit deeper, here are five other things that might be contributing to that inability to close out games:
The Habs may be a far-from-horrible 1-2 in the shootout this season, but they are also 1-7, as far as shot attempts go.
Indeed, they have only one shootout goal this season in eight total attempts, which is horrible. Their only shootout win, against the Columbus Blue Jackets, coming with backup Peter Budaj is bad enough. It’s worse when you consider that one goal came off the stick of David Desharnais.
If the one guy who can’t score in regulation is the one doing the scoring in the shootout, you know there’s a problem. It’s more of a problem seeing as he’s become a regular healthy scratch and might not even make it into the lineup some nights…although the bigger problem might be him making it in the other ones.
Admittedly, the best teams aren’t necessarily very good at shootouts, as Stanley Cup champions may not need to face them during the playoffs. As such, shootouts take the No. 5 slot here.
However, it’s hard to deny that those extra points might propel a non-playoff team into the postseason, at which point that team can become one of the best.
Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban and Columbus Blue Jackets forward Derek MacKenzie.
The victory against Blue Jackets was the Habs’ second straight game that went to a shootout, with the Habs admirably going the distance with the Eastern Conference-leading Tampa Bay Lightning this past Tuesday (before losing 2-1).
Granted, Tampa was without Steven Stamkos, but the Habs were without, yes, Desharnais.
*five-second pause for the laughter to die down*
Ignoring the disparity in talent, they both are technically their respective team’s top-line centers, at least when they’re performing…which for Stamkos is pretty much all the time.
Desharnais—who, well, was a healthy scratch, which should tell you all you need to know about how he’s been performing—does have nine career shootout goals in 19 attempts for a team-leading 47.4 percent career shooting percentage.
So he might have actually helped the team to win that shootout just like he did against the Blue Jackets.
It’s actually important to give the Habs, and, most importantly, goalie Carey Price (44 saves on 45 shots), their due as they hung in there with a desperate opponent trying to prove all the pundits wrong. While the Lightning may very realistically drop in the standings with their star player out, the free fall likely won’t start for a few games.
It’s still important to realize that as good as Tampa was, the Habs didn’t do themselves any favors, giving Tampa the last four power plays of the game.
If an avoidable high-sticking call at 16:27 of the third period against Rene Bourque wasn’t bad enough, the Habs had to deal with an ill-advised and rarely seen hand-pass face-off violation call against Lars Eller at 18:54.
Taking into account the two minutes Andrei Markov got for shooting the puck over the glass in overtime, one has to seriously wonder if the Habs would have even seen the shootout—let alone overtime—had Stamkos been taking one-timers on the power play instead of Teddy Purcell.
There’s no denying the Habs’ penalty kill is an incredible 86.5 percent right now. However, they have been shorthanded 74 times this season. The Pittsburgh Penguins have conversely been shorthanded over 20 times less.
The most telling stat is that the Habs, who are renowned for drawing a large amount of penalties, have been shorthanded 4:22 more than they have been on the power play this season.
That’s of course not even including fighting majors (the Habs have 15 total majors this season, tied with the fight-happy Philadelphia Flyers, FYI).
Fighting is admittedly one thing and dumb penalties another. Add it all up, though, and it’s easy to see the Habs are playing with fire…in more ways than one.
Tampa Bay Lightning forward Ryan Malone celebrates a goal against the Montreal Canadiens.
Overall, the Habs have actually scored first in as many games this year as they haven’t (10 times each), but their 3-2 comeback win against the Blue Jackets points to a disturbing trend that’s been emerging. In November, they’ve allowed the opposing team to open the scoring in five of seven games.
That’s likely a good reason they’ve only got two wins this month (with only one of them coming when they’ve scored first). Another reason might just be because they got to play the Blue Jackets and New York Islanders, though.
Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price stops a shot in front of Tampa Bay Lightning forward J.T. Brown.
While the Habs have been blocking shots left, right and center this season, going so far as to set an NHL-record 38 in one game, it might be more impressive if they didn’t have to. In fact, they also give up the 10th-most shots that actually reach the net in the league.
Currently they are giving up an average of 31.2 shots against, which is a far cry from the 26.9 they gave up last season. Considering they are only getting 30.6 shots on net themselves—and scoring on just 8.3 percent of those—the chances are good that continuing to win is not all that sustainable of a trend.
Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty fails to score against the St. Louis Blues.
The Habs have become a one-line team, with members of their third line from last year getting all the goals in recent games.
Lars Eller, Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher have combined to score five goals in the team’s past three games, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if the Habs as a whole didn’t score just seven in all.
While seven goals in three games (2.33 goals per game) can be attributed to a minor scoring slump, it’s actually been going on for some time, as they have scored just 18 times in the past 10 games.
Even though they are 4-4-2 in those games, a .500 record likely won’t be good enough to get into the playoffs, even in the weaker Eastern Conference.
As mentioned previously, the Habs are getting an average of 30.6 shots on net each game, putting them on their same pace as last year, with one key difference. Last year they averaged 3.04 goals per game.
Part of the discrepancy in scoring between last season and this year is perhaps injuries, as the Habs have already lost 95 man games due to injury so far, putting them behind just the Edmonton Oilers and Anaheim Ducks.
However, whereas the Oilers are arguably proof as to just how debilitating multiple key injuries (and bad goaltending…and inexperienced coaching and management) can be, the Ducks lead the league with 32 points. So, there are few to no excuses, especially now with the Habs getting healthy again.
Just Alexei Emelin remains on the injured list and he is hoping to return Saturday against the New York Rangers, according to TSN. So, for the Habs, the first game of the rest of the season is tonight.