Montreal Canadiens' 5 Biggest Areas for Improvement in 2nd Half of 2013-14

Brandon DuBreuil@@brandondubreuilContributor IIIJanuary 2, 2014

Montreal Canadiens' 5 Biggest Areas for Improvement in 2nd Half of 2013-14

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    Montreal needs more scoring from guys like Max Pacioretty in the second half.
    Montreal needs more scoring from guys like Max Pacioretty in the second half.Scott Iskowitz/Getty Images

    The Montreal Canadiens will have plenty of areas to improve upon as they enter the second half of the 2013-14 season. 

    The first half would have to be considered an overall success, considering the team sits fourth in the Eastern Conference with a 23-14-4 record and 50 points. Another 50 points over the next 41 games would give them a cool 100 and have them sitting comfortably in the Eastern Conference's playoff picture. 

    However, there are plenty of areas in which Montreal will need to get better if they hope to duplicate the success they enjoyed over the first half of the season. 

    Here are the Montreal Canadiens' five biggest areas for improvement in the second half of the 2013-14 season. 

5. Puck Possession

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    Alex Galchenyuk carries the puck.
    Alex Galchenyuk carries the puck.James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

    Puck possession is not an official stat kept by the NHL, but if it was, you can be sure that the Montreal Canadiens would not rank very well. 

    Any casual hockey fan watching a Montreal Canadiens hockey game is able to notice that they simply aren't in control of the puck very often.

    In their own end, opponents are able to sustain pressure for lengths of time with relative ease. The Canadiens are often caught chasing the other team around for entire shifts. 

    On offense, the Canadiens are often a "one-and-done" team, where they muster just one shot before the puck is carried down the ice by the opponent. 

    In the world of advanced statistics, the Fenwick Close percentage is one indicator of a team's puck possession. 

    As explained by Bleacher Report's Jonathan Willis, the Fenwick stat measures a team's shots on goal and missed shots together. It can then be expressed as a percentage compared to the total Fenwick number for both teams.

    Fenwick Close only measures one-goal games in the first or second period, so that the statistic isn't skewed by the style of hockey that happens when teams play to protect a lead. 

    In hockey, you need the puck in your possession to shoot it. Therefore, by measuring a team's Fenwick Close percentage, we can have a pretty clear view of its puck-possession rate. 

    The Montreal Canadiens currently have a Fenwick Close percentage of 49.0, according to Extra Skater. This ranks them 19th in the league, meaning they aren't even a playoff team in terms of puck possession. 

    In this case, advanced stats support what we observe when we watch the Habs each game. They are not a very good puck-possession team, which is why they are usually outshot and need to rely so much on shot blocking. 

    Winning teams in the NHL dominate puck possession. In fact, the top five teams in terms of Fenwick Close percentage as of January 2 are Chicago, L.A., San Jose, St. Louis and Boston. Pretty much the class of the NHL. 

    The Canadiens need to improve their puck-possession game in the second half of the season. If they don't, they will find themselves sliding down the standings as we move deeper into the 2013-14 year. 

4. Consistency

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    Carey Price skates away after a Carolina Hurricanes goal.
    Carey Price skates away after a Carolina Hurricanes goal.James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

    It sure can be frustrating being a fan of the Montreal Canadiens. 

    On some evenings, the team looks like a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

    They play with speed, skill, determination and passion. They outwork their opponents and look as if they could contend with just about any other of the 31 squads in a seven-game series in the spring.

    The Carolina game before the penalty parade, the first period in Nashville and the win against Phoenix on home ice are recent examples that come to mind.  

    Then there are those other nights. Those that leave fans wondering how this team still sits in the top half of the Eastern Conference playoff race. 

    On these occasions, the Habs get dominated in every facet of the game yet usually still have a chance to win thanks to Carey Price's magic. 

    Both December games against Florida and the nightmare in St. Louis remind us of these kinds of evenings.

    The Habs are a good hockey team that can succeed in the NHL when they bring their A-game. But they aren't good enough to get by with mediocre efforts. 

    If the Canadiens hope to keep their placement in the standings during the second half of the season, they are going to have to find a way to become more consistent game in and game out. 

3. Power Play

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    P.K. Subban
    P.K. SubbanBruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Earlier this season, Montreal's power play was one of their biggest strengths. In fact, the Habs boasted the league's second-best power-play percentage (24.6 percent) on November 12, 2013. 

    Recently, the Canadiens have gone ice-cold while up a man and have seen their power play fall to seventh in the league at 21.0 percent. 

    Including the two goals scored on December 31 against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Habs have tallied just four times in 41 opportunities dating back to December 4. That's a goal percentage of just 9.75.

    Even the Florida Panthers, the league's worst team with the man advantage, score at a higher rate (10.9 percent). 

    Montreal's power play is a bit of a one-trick pony, so perhaps this regression should not be considered much of a surprise. 

    Teams in the NHL are smart. Once they figured out how to take Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban out of the mix, Montreal's power play predictably went south.

    The Habs forwards are going to have to start scoring more if Montreal's power play is going to be a team strength in the second half of the season. Opponent's will continue to focus on Markov and Subban until the guys up front command more respect. 

2. Shot Differential

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    Josh Gorges
    Josh GorgesFrancois Lacasse/Getty Images

    Getting outshot is obviously a negative in hockey. After all, the team that shoots more than its opponent is going to win more often than it's going to lose. 

    Currently, the Montreal Canadiens sit 23rd in shots for per game with 28.4. Defensively, they rank 18th by giving up 30.1 shots against per contest. 

    On the season, they have been outshot by their opponents in 25 of the 42 games they have played. That's nearly 60 percent. 

    And the advanced statistics aren't any better.

    As mentioned earlier in this article, the Habs have a Fenwick Close (shots + missed shots) percentage of just 49.0 percent. Their Corsi percentage, which is like Fenwick but includes blocked shots, is even uglier at 47.9 (25th in the NHL, according to Extra Skater). 

    The Montreal Canadiens get outshot a lot, yet have won more often than they have lost this season. Great goaltending and shot blocking are to thank for that.

    But is it sustainable to continue winning games while playing like this? Probably not, unless Carey Price has a historic season. 

    Getting consistently outshot is a serious problem for the Montreal Canadiens. They will need to improve their shot differential in the new year if they hope to make the playoffs. 

1. Scoring

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    David Desharnais, Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec
    David Desharnais, Max Pacioretty, Tomas PlekanecMark Buckner/Getty Images

    The Montreal Canadiens will need more offense in 2014 if they hope to be a team that does any kind of damage this spring. It is as simple as that.

    As we enter the second half of the season, the Habs are mustering a mere 2.44 goals per game. They sit 22nd in the NHL in that category. That's just not good enough. 

    Luckily, they give up just 2.22 goals per game and are therefore in a position to control their fate as a playoff team over the next 41 games. 

    They will need to find more offense if they hope to avoid a repeat performance of last year's playoffs, however. 

    It is not a coincidence that they will need to improve in the four areas mentioned earlier in this article if they want to score more goals.

    Better puck possession, consistency, power play and shot differential will all lead to more offense for the Canadiens.

    Easier said than done? Of course. But these are the facts.

    The Canadiens will need to score an average of three goals per game in the second half of the season. If they can do this, they should earn home ice during the first round of the playoffs and will have a chance to make a deep playoff run. 

    However, if that number is closer to two over the next three-and-a-half months, they'll likely sneak into the postseason as the seventh or eighth seed. At two goals per game, this season will end very similarly to last year.