5 Alarming Issues With The Habs

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.

Special teams

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.

Solutions To A Powerless Power Play

By JD Lagrange – Ah the power play, also called the man-advantage. For many years now, with different coaches, different players, it’s been an Achilles heel for the Canadiens. Just recently, fans wanted Kirk Muller fired because of it. Today, they want Alex Burrows fired for the same reasons.

After the game against the Minnesota Wild, the Canadiens find themselves 31st in the NHL on the power play. They have scored one goal in 21 opportunity with the man advantage this season after seven games, a shameful 4.8% success rate. Comparatively speaking, the Colorado Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers are clicking at an astonishing 50% rate so far.

Teams that should be competing with the Canadiens in the standings are doing excellent on their power play. How do you explain that the Chicago Blackhawks are third in the NHL at 35%, the Arizona Coyotes at 29.6% (6th) and the Seattle Kraken at 29% (7th) are amongst the league’s best on the man-advantage?

Historically bad

The power play issues don’t date from yesterday. In fact, have a look at the team’s numbers and rankings since the last lockout, when the NHL cancelled the entire season:


Before some try pointing to Marc Bergevin (to pile it on), know that in the past 30 years (since 1992-93), the Canadiens have had a power play success rate of 20% or more only six (6) times, and two of those times were under Bergevin. He wasn’t part of the solution for the power play, but he wasn’t the issue either.

Also, since the Canadiens’ last Stanley Cup in 1993, only four times have players reached the one point per game ratio. The last time that happened? 2007-08!

  • 1993-94: Vincent Damphousse (91 pts)
  • 1995-96: Vincent Damphousse (94 pts) and Pierre Turgeon (96 pts).
  • 2007-08: Alex Kovalev (84 pts).

Only two more times have players reached the 80 points plateau, both the same season: Damphousse had 81 points and Mark Recchi had 80 points back in 1996-97.

The reasons

Of course, having high end offensive players helps for the man advantage. Look at Colorado and Edmonton for an example of that. But I strongly believe that the success (or lack of thereof) on the power play is as much execution as it is about X’s and O’s. Admittedly, higher end players will execute more than mid-range players for sure.

Still, you can have very good strategies but if players make the wrong decision at the wrong time, if they fail to execute a simple pass, or fold under pressure, it’s on the players on the ice and not on the coaching staff. Burrows was good on the power play as a player in Vancouver and Martin St-Louis made a living lighting the lamp in such situations. They know how. They just can’t go there and execute for those who don’t.

There are a few predominant reasons why the power play isn’t working, in my humble opinion.

  • They are stagnant (not moving enough) and fold if pressured, making bad decisions at the wrong time, and easy to anticipate passes which are often intercepted.
  • Their zone entry is too predictable, therefore too easy for opposing coaches to come up with a plan to defend against. Same defenseman dropping the puck back to Suzuki in the neutral zone…
  • They use the ring around the boards passes too much, instead of tape-to-tape. It takes a second or two to retrieve a puck from the boards and regain control, giving the penalty killers time to put more pressure.

The solutions

There are as many strategies as there are coaches out there when it comes to special teams. It’s easier to fix a penalty kill than it is fixing a power play as you can’t teach goals’ scoring skills. You can teach defensive positioning. But let me humbly give it a shot, based on my no-so-professional observations but my long experience in hockey.

  • Quicker, tape-to-tape passes and more player movement, causing to be less static and predictable, while creating confusion in coverage for penalty killers.
  • Vary your play. In the past, they were always setting up Shea Weber for the big shot. Predictable. Now, they seem to always want a one-timer for Caufield on the left or a high shot from Suzuki on the right. Using the bumper players more would help.
  • Good teams on the PP don’t pass forever without taking shots. Two, three, fourth passes and there’s a shot. The more passes, the more room for mistakes (bad pass, bad reception, pass intercepted, etc).
  • More aggressive puck retrieval (rebounds), focusing more on possession.
  • Win your faceoffs in the offensive zone. This is a very underrated tool as you don’t need to go through the whole zone-entry ordeal.
  • Don’t be predictable in all aspects, but particularly in zone entries. Like in basketball, call a play on the fly based on the defense. Sometimes pass back for speed, other times use the stretch passes, or soft dump in to the corner on the weak side with everyone in movement, etc..

When the Canadiens’ young offensive players, and their young defensemen gain in experience, the power play should improve. They do miss Mike Matheson at the point currently, that’s a no-brainer. Someone, at some point, will have to step up their game on the power play. Ideally, more than one player. The issue isn’t X’s and O’s. They’ve tried multiple things. It’s time for players to earn their power play time.

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