Just when you thought the Montreal Canadiens scoring woes couldn’t get any more troublesome, it managed to get a whole lot worse on Thursday versus the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena.
Following a 3-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night where the team managed only a late third-period goal against backup goalie Carter Hutton, the Canadiens looked to bounce back versus the Hurricanes who had surrendered the 10th most goals in the NHL going into the game. Instead, Cam Ward stopped all 23 shots faced to beat Montreal 2-0 and earn his first career shutout versus the Canadiens.
Credit to the veteran goaltender for a job well done, but the Canadiens certainly did not make it overly difficult. Montreal created only 20 scoring chances, 10 high dangerous chances and very few quality opportunities, according to captain Max Pacioretty.
“It’s no secret this team is struggling to create offence. We have to figure out why and make adjustments to our game in order to get that offence,” said Pacioretty. “The chances we do get either seem to be too much from the outside or one-and-done.”
It was the seventh time this season the Canadiens failed to score in a game. Their 2.51 goals for per game ranks 29th in the NHL, and the solution to the problem seems to be lost on most of the players in the dressing room.
“I don’t know if it’s a chemistry thing or something we need to work at as a group, but it’s obvious that the goals aren’t there so we have to figure out ways to create,” added Pacioretty.
Unsatisfactory Play at Centre
Part of the Canadiens’ scoring issue can be attributed to their play down the middle of the ice. This season, only two regularly-used centreman have won over 50 percent of their draws (Tomas Plekanec and Phillip Danault). In Carolina, the Hurricanes won 79 percent of the faceoffs, and only Jonathan Drouin managed to win more than 25 percent of his attempts for the Canadiens.
“When you don’t win draws, which we didn’t do a good job at all tonight, you spend a lot of time and waste a lot of energy chasing the puck,” said head coach Claude Julien following the loss. “It would be a lot nicer if we could start with it and save our good energy for managing the puck and being on offence.”
“A lot of time too, [the faceoffs] are 50-50 battles and other guys need to get in their and win those,” added Julien.
Inadequate Pressure in Front of the Net
Generating a presence in front of the opponent’s net is something the Canadiens have struggled to do this season, which would also explain for their insufficient scoring. Players like Brendan Gallagher and Nicolas Deslauriers are fixtures in opposing creases, but you’d be hard-pressed to find any other consistent net-front presence.
“All goalies in the NHL will stop a shot if no one is in front of the net. You have no chance to score,” said Deslauriers. Even I haven’t been there lately. It’s tough to get in front of the net. The defence is always trying to box you out, but it’s a sacrifice that needs to be made. I think when we were having success, that’s what was making the difference.”
Julien echoed Deslauriers’ statements, insisting that more pressure needed to be applied in front of the net. The Canadiens worked on the issue in practice on Wednesday and will continue to do so in the future.
“We’d like to see more guys going to the front of the net,” said Julien. “Is it frustrating? Absolutely. That’s why we worked on it yesterday and will continue working on it until we get it right.”
The frustration is not only felt by the coach. The shortage of goals and positive results has inevitability taken its toll, and hiding individual irritation has become more difficult to cover up.
“Its becoming very frustrating for sure,” said Paul Byron. “Every game we lose, it becomes less likely that we make the playoffs. Every game we lose, it becomes more and more frustrating.”
The Canadiens playoff chances fell to 0.3% with the loss to the Hurricanes. Nobody within the organization is happy about the present circumstances, but Julien understands that there is still work to be done to mend the shortcomings of the season, and will remain optimistic along the way.
“It’s equally frustrating to lose for players and coaches,” said Julien. But my job remains trying to improve and change the outcomes. I’m allowed to be frustrated, but I have the responsibility to rectify the errors we made tonight. In that sense, we have to stay positive.”
I cover the Montreal Canadiens and Laval Rocket for The Hockey Writers. I am currently a student at the University of Concordia studying journalism in the hopes of one day becoming a full-time sports reporter. I have previously covered the Indianapolis Colts of the National Football League for Pro Football Spot.