Carey Price and A Weak Penalty Kill Are Sinking the Montreal Canadiens

Another game, another loss for the Canadiens last night against the New Jersey Devils. This time, the Habs managed to stay in the game after trailing 3-0 early on to finally capitulate 3-2, losing their fifth game in six contests. Montreal surrendered two more goals in four attempts on the penalty kill, ultimately sinking the team once again. Luckily for the club, the Boston Bruins lost 5-2 to the Philadelphia Flyers, so both teams remain at 59 points.

Carey Price has lost his confidence (Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports)
Carey Price has lost his confidence (Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports)

In fact, the team’s short-handed unit has been abysmal during the recent slump, killing only 15 of their last 25 penalties for a mediocre efficiency rate of 60% since they clinched a playoff berth on April 11th, 2013 in Buffalo. The Canadiens are now ranked 25th in the NHL with a putrid 79.35% efficiency rate, a far cry from last year’s excellent penalty kill rate of 88.6%, that was good for 2nd in the league.

Another problem is that the Canadiens are very undisciplined this season, having to kill 164 penalties in 46 games this season. They rank 6th in that area in the league, the five other most undisciplined teams all being out of the playoffs (PHI, BUF, DAL, EDM, COL) at the moment. Overall, the Habs have allowed an astounding 34 goals with a man short, which ranks them 27th in the NHL. Overall, the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks have allowed the fewest goals (18) with a man down this season, or almost half as the Canadiens.

What is even more strange is that the team fares better on the road with a man short, killing penalties at a good efficiency rate of 81.3% (good for 11th) away from Montreal, while posting a dreadful 77.5% efficiency rate (good for 27th) on home ice.

To illustrate the team’s penalty kill woes, Carey Price has a great 2.05 goals against average (GAA)/60 minutes at even strength compared to an abysmal 8.87 GAA/60 minutes with a man short. In comparison, Peter Budaj has a 3.87 GAA with a man short to go along with a 2.35 GAA/60 minutes at even strength. This statistic would explain Price’s inflated GAA of 2.60 this season, good for 28th among qualified goaltenders in the NHL.

Josh Gorges is clearly exhausted which hurts the penalty kill (Icon SMI)
Josh Gorges is clearly exhausted which hurts the penalty kill (Icon SMI)

As for save percentage, the Price is still wrong as the Habs’ number one netminder is 36th among qualified goaltenders with a putrid .904 save percentage (to Budaj’s .906 save %). The problem is that Carey Price is worst in the entire NHL among qualified goalies with an abysmal save percentage of .803% with a man down. In fact, only Ryan Miller has allowed more goals on the penalty kill (31) than Carey Price (30).

Is it because the whole defensive unit is a mess or simply because Price is unable to make the key saves when the team needs him most?

The fact that the Canadiens have yet to score a single goal on the penalty kill doesn’t help them to create scoring chances and killing precious time. Instead, the forwards always dump the puck deep in the opponent’s zone instead of taking more chances and take advantage of odd-man rushes. Michel Therrien also needs to adjust his defensive strategy and use different players on the penalty kills.

Why play grinders like Travis Moen, Colby Armstrong, Brandon Prust and Jeff Halpern when they don’t get the job done? Why not use faster players that are an offensive treat such as Lars Eller, Rene Bourque, Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk? These offensively-gifted players would keep the other team’s defensemen on their heels and would create turnovers rather than allow them to play with great confidence.

As for defensemen, Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges are clearly exhausted from playing too many minutes, so why not cut their ice-time at even strength in order to allow them to be more efficient on the penalty kill? Once again, Markov was the most used rearguard last night, playing 23:34 minutes despite showing clear signs of fatigue in the past ten games, posting a -10 plus/minus rating while recording a mere 2 goals and 1 assist for 3 points.

With only two games remaining to the shortened NHL season, why not use seven defensemen to spread out the minutes better and rest Markov and Gorges, while playing more the Habs’ first three lines instead of playing the fourth line 12 minutes a game? Young defenseman Jarred Tinordi has joined the team in Winnipeg in prevision for tomorrow’s match-up with the Jets, so why not dress him as a seventh defenseman? This would give the Habs some much-needed toughness on the back end, allow Michel Therrien to rest his key elements on the blue line and ease Raphael Diaz’ return to the line-up even more after a long-term injury.

To be successful in the playoffs, the Canadiens will need to take the lead early as they have yet to win a game when trailing after the first period this season (0-7-1). The Canadiens will also have to play a good defensive game in order to win as the Bleu Blanc Rouge has only three regulation wins when the opposition scores 3 or more goals! Finally, Montreal will need to be disciplined! If they can avoid taking lazy and dumb penalties, they will have success and go deep in the playoffs.

Now, let’s start the game on time Thursday against a desperate Jets team, otherwise we might as well be playing for the home-ice advantage against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.