This week the Montreal Canadiens are out west. It is what some are calling a make or break trip. The Habs are playing .500 hockey. While many fans had higher hopes at the beginning of the season, it looks like the Canadiens are out.
Five Reasons The Montreal Canadiens Are Out of A Playoff Spot
These high hopes may have always been unwarranted. Indeed, there was pessimism among some Habs fans since the summer. The TSN 690 crew expressed concerns and even the ever-optimistic Brian Wilde foresaw some regression this season.
Some of us tried to stay positive. In retrospect, that optimism seems hopelessly naive. The worries expressed over the summer have been proven correct. The Canadiens are older, slower, and worse overall on defense. They have little depth down the middle. It remains unclear to anyone what exactly the plan is.
Here are 5 reasons Habs fans are out of a playoff spot.
1. Defensive Deficits
Claude Julien became the Montreal Canadiens 26th coach last year. He is perhaps best known for a defensive style of Hockey. Unfortunately, the Habs defense has not been inspiring. Julien bears some responsibility.
As Eric Engels pointed out: “Marc Bergevin (laughably) referred to in numerous pre-season interviews as better than last season’s, appears as though it was assembled to win the 2003 Stanley Cup. It’s all guts and toughness and five pairs of legs slower than they need to be to compete in today’s high-flying game.”
Enter Coach Julien’s defensive zone system. This system has been described as one in which defensemen protected the front of the net and suppressed shots from the crease. The center supported the defensemen down low. The wingers’ first priority was to collapse into the slot. Goals against mattered less in the short term while players adapted to the system.
Fans were told, Claude Julien’s defensive system would help paper over the lack of talent on the blueline. So far, it hasn’t.
Carey Price has struggled all season. He certainly does not look like an elite goalie worth $10 million per year. Price has a 3.09 goals against average and .903 save percentage. This is a drastic improvement over Price’s terrible start to the season of his career, in which he went 3-7-1 in 11 starts.
Back up Al Montoya has only played three games this season. He has also struggled with a 1-1 record. In his only loss of the year, the Los Angeles Kings scored four goals late in the game. His win came in an 8-3 victory over the Ottawa Senators. He has been injured since November.
Between October 21 and November 14, nine players have found themselves on the IR. This includes Artturi Lehkonen, Torrey Mitchell, Al Montoya, Shea Weber, Jonathan Drouin, Charles Hudon, Carey Price, Nikita Scherbak, and Ales Hemsky. Add to this the early injury to young defenseman Noah Juulsen. In the first 20 games of the season, the injury saga of David Schlemko further undermined an already depleted Habs blue line.
This month, just one game into a seven-game road trip, the Canadiens announced on Monday that Shea Weber is out and there is no timetable for his return to the lineup. According to coach Claude Julien, Weber is dealing with a nagging foot injury that had previously kept him out of the lineup for six games last month.
While every team struggles with injuries, the Canadiens had little room for the inevitable challenge that comes with an 82 game season.
Habs fans were rightly concerned about scoring this year. As some may recall, when the Bruins fired Julien, the B’s were among the worst in the league at creating offence. So far this season, the Canadiens have struggled to consistently create offence. This is a problem Canadiens fans know all too well. While Montreal is top ten in the league in shots on goal per game, they are 18th in the league in power play conversions.
Brendan Gallagher and Paul Byron are leading the team in goals. Phillip Danault and Max Pacioretty have the most points at 21 and 20 respectively. This is less than half the points of league-leading players. Last month Marc Dumont suggested focusing on the 4th line to augment production. The fourth line has indeed produced of late, including goals by Daniel Carr and Nicolas Deslauriers against Vancouver and earned the praise of Coach Julien. “They play the right away,” said Julien. “They’re doing what we want them to do. They’re winning board battles, they’re winning races and they’re in the right position to score.”
If you are looking to your fourth line to lead the team, your team has problems.
5. Cap Space
What looked like good news earlier in the season now looks like an albatross around Marc Bergevin‘s neck. It is looking increasingly likely the Habs won’t make the playoffs. If they do, fans will be angry at the failure to sign a smart puck-moving defenseman or a solid second line centre to give the Habs some more depth down the middle. This is the $8.5 million question.
— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) September 11, 2017
The Canadiens don’t need any more bargain basement defenseman or depth fourth liners. If the Habs go down with lots of cash in their pocket, fans should remember who got them here. As LWOH’s own Connor Lapalme points out: If the Canadiens continue to struggle this season, Marc Bergevin is next in the firing line.