Keep Calm and Carey On
There’s no doubt the Habs will make the playoffs; but after an Eastern Conference Finals appearance last year, the expectations in this hockey-crazed town are sky high.
The Montreal Canadiens currently sit third in the Atlantic division with 61 points, 11 more than the first non-playoff team, the Florida Panthers.
The main reason for the their success is the goaltending.
The team has been outshot 24 of the 45 games they’ve played this season, which is just over 50%. That is the worst percentage for any current playoff team.
Normally, fingers point towards defence for the excessive amount of shots taken.
While there needs to be improvement on that front as well, there lies a greater reason for the troubling trend.
The team is not balanced. If you look at any team that has won in the past couple of seasons, the key is depth and consistency across all facets of the team.
Goaltending can steal a game or two here and there, but for any real run there can’t be any defensive or offensive liabilities.
Price recently returned from injury, with backup Dustin Tokarski filling in. During his stint, the team’s major holes became much more obvious.
In the game against Ottawa on Jan. 15, the Senators’ fourth shot of the game got past the back-up goaltender.
They continued to outshoot the Canadiens 31-26 to win 4-1.
The Habs couldn’t convert on any of their four power plays and were having trouble transitioning through the middle of the ice, which led to a limited number of chances in the offensive zone, not to mention that seven of the 16 forwards failed to register a shot on goal.
A major issue this team has to deal with is the third pairing defenceman Alexei Emelin, who has turned making mistakes into a nightly affair.
His puck handling has improved and he’s making fewer turnovers, but the problem lies in his skating ability.
Emelin can’t keep up. He’s not fast enough to make needed transitions out of his own end and has a lot of difficulty controlling the pace of the game.
His largest asset was his physicality, but even that has diminished this season. Not every playoff team needs six top defensemen, but they do need six competent ones.
The Canadiens are 30th in the league in scoring during the first period of play and only really start playing when they get scored on.
For instance, in last Tuesday’s win over Nashville, the Canadiens found themselves being outshot 22-4.
With the current roster, I don’t see how they would be able to get past a superior team in the conference to get to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Even with the Habs having 5:1 odds to win the East, it doesn’t seem likely with teams like Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh, who have found a way to dominate possession in the offensive zone.
The Habs were able to sweep the Lightning last year, but that came without Tampa Bay’s starting goaltender, Ben Bishop, who was injured just before the start of the playoffs.
The Rangers eliminated the Habs, after Carey Price fell to injury by forward Chris Kreider, in six games.
If the Canadiens are able to bring their offensive game back to a level that got them to the Eastern finals last year, with a healthy Price and a trade or two, their chances of making a deep push might be more possible.
The Montreal Canadiens will be able to stand on the shoulders of Carey Price to get into the playoffs; the issue they’ll face is whether or not they’ll fall off.