By JD Lagrange – After 15 games into the season, we are starting to notice some trends in the Canadiens’ overall play. With a 7-6-2 record, they are doing better than what some fans and media members thought they would. The biggest issue is consistency in their play. They are playing nose to nose against teams like Las Vegas and Boston, but put up stinkers the next day. For a team that is the third youngest in the NHL, this is a phenomenon that is to be expected.
This weekend, I presented some personal observations about several players so far this season. It’s now time to look at the ensemble of the work coach Martin St-Louis as done, in comparison to the rest of the NHL. You will notice some big improvement in several areas from a year ago. But there is still work to be done in other areas.
Aside from the obvious in the wins column, the Canadiens are much improved on special teams, particularly on the power play, where they rank 10th in the NHL.
I will be the first to say that the penalty minutes have to be taken with a grain of salt for two reasons:
- The Canadiens have six major penalties, most from players fighting to defend a teammate. This raises the penalty minutes per game played statistic but defending a teammate is a good thing… ask the Maple Leafs who are under heat for not doing that.
- As far as the minor penalties, the NHL seems to be having something against Montreal as many calls have been questionable at best, or down right blatant bias against them. The league has the worst and most corrupt referees in all North American pro sport, regardless of what its Commissioner claims!
This doesn’t mean that they don’t take too many (deserved) penalties, far from there. They need to be more careful in that aspect. When killing penalties, you can’t attack and you’re wasting time and energy from the players having to defend, while straining some very average goaltending (most games).
There is one area where I would like to see the Canadiens improve, and that’s in the giveaways and takeaways category. St-Louis’ team coughs up the puck more than any other team (but one) in the NHL, almost 11 times a game. On the other hand, they are 28th for the fewest takeaways per game with five.
Basically what this stat says is they are spending more time giving the puck to the opponent when they have it, and can’t get it back when they don’t have possession. Since St-Louis is preaching a puck possession game, we can see that this is not working in the Canadiens’ favour at all.
Sure, giveaways come with inexperience. It is to be expected. Veteran Mike Matheson is 3rd in the NHL in giveaways with 20, and Johnathan Kovacevic is 11th in the league. Nick Suzuki is the Canadiens’ leader amongst forwards in this unflattering category with 14, the 17th most in the NHL.
Jake Evans leads the Canadiens in takeaways with 10. That’s good for 47th in the league. He’s followed by Sean Monahan who has eight (81st).
Room to improve
The Canadiens have outscored their opponent 27-22 at even strength so far this season. So if the team can focus on staying out of the box a bit more, they will give themselves a better chance to win. It’s not rocket science.
Further, if they cut back on their giveaways and find ways to retrieve the puck when they lose it by improving ever so slightly on their takeaways, you will see a totally different team.
The season is still young and they have a lot of time to work on these early tendencies. Look at the improvement on the power play already. They are young. They are learning. If they remain somewhat healthy, we should continue to see improvements in all aspects. The rebuild is over. The Canadiens are now at the development stage and that comes with growing pains.