By JD Lagrange – It’s early in the season and one should not be hitting the panic button… yet. With that said, sometimes, we can notice trends, or things that provoke our PTSD from years past. For yours truly, there are a few blatant red flags popping up already that makes me question if this team can progress this upcoming season. Yes, the loss of Kirby Dach is devastating but it’s not something the team shouldn’t be able to overcome.
Only three games in and we are discovering some issues and tendencies with this edition of the Montreal Canadiens. While one could likely name ten of them, it has become clear that there are five main issues that the GM and coaching staff will need to address if they, as they claim, wish for the team to take a step forward this season.
The Canadiens don’t have anyone capable of offering any consistency in net. Even when the team plays relatively well, the masked man allows a back breaker or two most nights. We’ve known for a while that Carey Price’s career is over. This one is on Kent Hughes not having addressed that need at this point. Back at the end of last season, I had dressed a list of five candidates for trade. Most of that list still stands. We have gone over this many times, they need to address it now that they’re rebuilding not to be like the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers, teams ready to contend but can’t address their need in net. The prospects drafted recently are years away folks. They need a stop gap now!
Top right-handed defenseman
Some will be quick to point to the defense instead of the goalies and they have a point. Losing Shea Weber (under Marc Bergevin) and Jeff Petry, both prematurely, has created an immense gap on the right side of the defense. Yes, there are prospects who will eventually be able to step in but they are not ready. David Savard is not playing in his chair on the top pairing and Johnathan Kovacevic, as well as he’s played, is not a top-4 defenseman. These two need to be bumped down, Savard to the second pair and Kovy to the third. Only then will the defense look more solid. Again, put that on the GM’s shoulders.
Top line winger
Josh Anderson is a good hockey player who brings a special set of skills on the team. Rafaël Harvey-Pinard has the heart of a lion. But there is actually no one worthy of first line duty alongside Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki. The Canadiens’ dynamic duo then becomes easier to check without a third highly dangerous member on that line. This one, once again, falls in the GM’s duties, as the coaching staff does what they can with what they have.
Both the power play and the penalty kill needs some serious improvement. In 2021-22, the PP was 31st in the NHL while the team’s PK was 27th overall. Last season, they were 29th overall both on the PP and PK. And it’s no better this season thus far. Not only don’t they generate anything with the man advantage, it often kills the team’s momentum. Worse, they have already allowed two goals with the man advantage! And with a man down (PK or goalie pulled), they have already allowed 8 goals… That is mostly on the coaching staff.
Here’s something to think about if you’re the Canadiens’ coaching staff and players. So far this year, they have scored 10 goals:
- 8 at 5 on 5
- 1 at 5 on 4 (PP)
- 1 at 4 on 5 (SH)
They have allowed 12 goals this season:
- 1 at 5 on 5
- 1 at 4 on 4
- 2 at 5 on 4 (their own PP)
- 1 at 3 on 5 (PK)
- 4 at 4 on 5 (PK)
- 3 at 5 on 6 (goalie pulled)
So at 5 on 5, they are outscoring their opponents 8-1. At even strength (including 4 on 4), they’re outscoring them 8-2.
The issue? The team leads the NHL in minor penalties with 24 in three games. You don’t need to be a math expert to see where the issue is here: poor special teams with a team leading the league in penalties… bad combination.
In conclusion, three of the team’s top-5 priorities aren’t being met by the General Manager and two are on the coaching staff (and players). While it may be too early to push the panic button yet, recognizing those glaring needs is key. You want your team to advance and learn to win this season, building a winning culture? All have their responsibilities… some more than others.