By JD Lagrange – The Montreal Canadiens are going through their first real tough times and what’s most alarming is that it’s happening against teams that on paper, they should be beating. To make matters even more troubling, they are almost fully healthy, as veteran defensemen Joel Edmundson and Mike Matheson are back in their line-up.
The team was up to such a promising start to the season and fans were excited to see the young Habs. The offense was running in full cylinders, the young defense was doing its job, and the goaltending was solid. But since November 12th, the Canadiens’ goaltenders have not been as good as they have been the first month of the season.
Yes, Allen managed two wins in there, believe it or not. But it was due to a strong offensive effort in both cases, not so much because of his strong performances. Here’s a break down, game by game, during that stretch.
No matter how you twist this, no NHL team will win many games when their goalies have a saves percentage below the respectable .900 mark. Those were all winnable games, with perhaps the exception of the red-hot New Jersey Devils. Columbus is missing half their line-up to injuries, as did Philly. And Buffalo had lost eight in a row. This is not acceptable.
With that being said, the entire blame is certainly not all on the Allen and Montembeault duo. In many occasions, we’ve seen forwards not giving their full efforts coming back to help in deep in the zone. Many times, forwards were caught cheating, anticipating the Canadiens to get the puck to them when the opponents had possession.
Let’s call a spade a spade here. In spite of having an outstanding season offensively, the dynamic duo of Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield have been guilty of that in recent games. That’s unusual for them as they were strong at both ends of the ice to start the season.
This is just one man’s observation, but in more than a few occasions, it’s like they’re relying on Kirby Dach to be the guy down low. That’s fine but when Dach is already there, Suzuki and Caufield must watch for the fourth man in, or replace a defenseman who might have pinched in and got caught. The two offensive juggernauts have not been doing that lately.
It is quite obvious on the Sabres’ first goal last night. Matheson has his man, Dach followed his man to the net and beyond. Edmundson had two men to check because we can see Caufield and Suzuki coasting back and not taking the late man, Rasmus Dahlin, who ended up scoring.
There aren’t many solutions but the good news is that there are a few. For one, you need a commitment to coming back into your zone with at least four players. So two forwards must be committed to come and help below the hashmarks… and check an opponent.
In a few occasions in the past few games, I have pointed out on Twitter that Suzuki looks tired. On for the season, he averages 20:43 of ice time. That’s fine, he can do it. But since November 5th, his average ice time is at 22:07, and he played just shy of 25 minutes against Philadelphia. That is too much.
I see two ways to take some ice away from him in order to keep him fresh:
- The Canadiens have two other quality centers in Sean Monahan and Christian Dvorak who can take additional ice time at center. Use them.
- Take his 1:22 from killing penalties and give those to someone else. The Canadiens have sent a good penalty killer in Rem Pitlick to Laval and kept some dead wood up with the NHL club. Have him would allow to use a fresher Suzuki after the penalty is killed, to generate offense. Scotty Bowman (you may have heard of him), while with the Detroit Red Wings, did that with multiple Selke winner Pavel Datsyuk.
Winning is not everything, particularly not this season. But burning out your players, having tired key players on the ice, is not helping develop anyone either. It is clear from watching some of them play, that they are not utilized to the maximum of their strength and abilities. This is on the coaching staff.
Yes, offense is exciting to watch but right now, retrieving the puck out of your own net as often as they do isn’t too exciting either. Like anything in life, you need a balance and right now, it’s tipped too far one way.