Canadiens Need to Rely on the Basics of Puck Support to Break Slump

There is no hiding the fact that the Montreal Canadiens are struggling out of the gate this season, opening with an 0-4 record. Spending time in the social media realm has revealed how the reaction has varied among fans and pundits. Some see the team circling the proverbial drain, and are already looking ahead to next season. On the opposite end, many have viewed this losing streak as a blip in what will be a long 82 game season. In any case, after a 5-0 shellacking at the hands of the San Jose Sharks Tuesday evening, the media and fanbase are now largely engaged in offering up a series of diagnoses and prognoses regarding the team’s recent performance and trajectory. There is a lot to unpack. One place to start is with the apparent lack of offensive chemistry seen in the first four games.

Currently, the Canadiens have five new forwards on their roster (Adam Brooks, Cedric Paquette, Matthieu Perreault, Mike Hoffman, and Christian Dvorak). However, with these five included, the Canadiens entered this season with arguably the best offensively inclined forward group the team has iced in many years, particularly on the wing. On paper, there is very little reason why the team only has three goals in four games (less than Los Angeles King Anze Kopitar; Detroit Red Wing Tyler Bertuzzi; Washington Captial Alex Ovechkin, and Edmonton Oiler Connor Mcdavid), yet this is where the team stands. The lack of offensive chemistry evident is a product of a failure to support the puck. There are many examples to cite of when this has occurred and yet the problem is fixable.

Canadiens’ Forwards Have No Support

After the game against the Sharks, a visibly frustrated Jeff Petry said “there are so many times where we’re skating away from the puck. We’re leaving guys out to dry. We’re not playing as a unit of five and we’re going to go nowhere with that.” His assessment was very apt. One moment in the game against the Sharks firmly stood out as an example of what Petry was describing. In the third period, Jonathan Drouin received a stretch pass from defenseman Ben Chiarot. Drouin corralled the puck and looked to make a play, but there was a problem: he was standing alone, just past the center ice dot, with no teammates even remotely close to offering any sort of support. The Sharks easily regained control of the puck and pushed back into the Montreal zone.

Jonathan Drouin
Jonathan Drouin, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The moment perfectly encapsulated why the Canadiens have only three goals in four games. In these situations, the team’s forwards are forced to go on the attack as individuals, essentially eliminating any possibility of a sustained offensive push. This has particularly hurt Brendan Gallagher, who in previous years thrived on driving offense using short, quick, passes with former linemates Phillip Danault and Tomas Tatar/Artturi Lehkonen (See the goal overtime goal that pushed the Canadiens into the Stanley Cup Final last season). Right now, Gallagher’s usual effectiveness is totally stunted. Retooling their breakout should help the team regain some cohesion while moving up the ice.

Strong Breakouts Key For Canadiens’ Forwards

The Canadiens’ forwards need to come back deep into their defensive zone to help give their defense more options. In their four losses, the defense was frequently forced to try stretch passes or to simply flip the puck into no man’s land. In the NHL, if the forwards do not get the puck in stride with support, it does not matter how much skill they have. They are not going anywhere. These adjustments highlight the very basics of puck support, meaning the Canadiens should be capable of executing them.

Related: Montreal Canadiens Hang Jake Allen Out to Dry with Lack of Goal Support

If the Canadiens can move up the ice in tighter formations and rely on shorter passes, they should be able to gather more speed heading into the offensive zone. From there, this should help their forecheck and ultimately their offensive stat line.

The Habs will get a chance to show what they have learned on Thursday evening as they welcome a very strong Carolina Hurricanes squad. If the Canadiens are unable to return to the basics and fix this problem of poor puck support, the Hurricanes will make them pay. As a result, the losses will continue to pile up and questions about their team identity will continue to emerge.

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