Canadiens’ First Week: Special Teams, Drouin & Youth Need to Step Up

The first week of the hockey season has come and gone, and things could not look any worse for the Montreal Canadiens. They started the season 0-3, including an embarrassing loss to the lowly Buffalo Sabres, and this is the first time the Habs went 0-3 since the 1995-96 season. On top of being 0-3, the team has only scored three goals, even though they outshot their opponent in two of the three games. Here are three takeaways from the Canadiens lacklustre first week.

Canadiens Special Teams Need a Lot of Work

One of the crucial factors in the Canadiens’ terrible start is the lack of success on both their special teams. The power play (PP) is yet to score, and the penalty kill (PK) is working at a 61.5 percent rate. When your special teams can’t achieve or keep the puck out of the net, you won’t win very many games, and the Canadiens need to fix this quickly. The PP looked out of sync the first two games, so out of sync that they had a five on three against the Toronto Maple Leafs in game one, and all they could muster was one shot on net from the point. The PP was better in the third game against the New York Rangers. They got good zone entries and controlled the puck well in the zone; however, they couldn’t generate many scoring chances or get cross-crease passes to work.

Winnipeg Jets Montreal Canadiens Game Four
The Montreal Canadiens celebrate an overtime victory as goaltender Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets skates by in Game Four of the Second Round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

There has been an improvement on the PP, but it has yet to capitalize. All hope is not lost for the PP, as there are many teams who haven’t scored a PP goal; some notable ones are the Vegas Golden Knights and the Colorado Avalanche. The Canadiens have enough offence that the PP should fix itself; Mike Hoffman being back from injury should help with this situation. The PK, however, is a different monster and one that could be harder to fix than the PP.

Related: Canadiens Facing an Identity Crisis

The Canadiens have allowed a PP goal in every game they have played, including three against Buffalo. With Phil Danault and Shea Weber gone, the Habs have some holes that need filling on the PK. They thought David Savard and Christian Dvorak could fill those holes, but so far, that has not been the case. Right now, the Canadiens are 19th in the league for the PK, but in all three games played, a PP goal against played a significant factor in them losing the game. For a team to have good special teams, it needs to have both the PP and the PK to equal 100 or be as close as possible. The Canadiens are not even close to that at 61.5 percent. Of course, it’s only been three games, and these numbers will change quickly, hopefully – for the Canadiens’ sake – for the better.

Canadiens Drouin is Reinvigorated

The past week has looked bleak for the Canadiens, but one ray of hope has been the play of Jonathan Drouin. Since Drouin returned from his absence due to anxiety and insomnia, he looks like a brand new player. Playing on a line with Dvorak and Josh Anderson, Drouin has been the best player on the ice for the first three games. Not only has he scored two of the Habs’ three goals, but he’s also forechecking and backchecking well and helping create offence for his line.

Montreal Canadiens Jonathan Drouin
Montreal Canadiens Jonathan Drouin (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)

Drouin looks rejuvenated and is playing with lots of energy and excitement, proving the time off to take care of himself was worth it not only for him but also for the team. Drouin has been the bright light in a very dark start to the season, scoring the first goal for the Canadiens and the first goal at home. If he can come back and elevate his game, it gives hope that a fully healed and mentally healthier Carey Price can do the same. The Canadiens will have to keep pace with the division to be in a position for Price to help them reach the playoffs upon his return.

Canadiens Young Guns Need to Step Up

So far, the Canadiens don’t have anyone but Drouin stepping up. But for them to get out of this funk, the young guns need to take the most significant step. Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield and Alexander Romanov make up the young guns for the Canadiens, and all of them have yet to hit the score sheet. It’s not that any of them are playing all that poorly, but Suzuki and Caufield are not finishing on their chances, and Romanov was very inconsistent in his first two games. The team will rely heavily on these young guys to help lead the way to victories, which after dropping the first three, they will need to do soon to the right the ship.

Nick Suzuki Montreal Canadiens
Nick Suzuki, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The goals and points will come for Suzuki and Caufield; it’s just a matter of time. And once their confidence grows and they get the first one, more should start coming. Both players have improved with every game — let’s forget about Buffalo — and they are both creating offence and getting chances; they’re just not burying any of them. They will have to start burying these chances for the Canadiens to start winning. In Romanov’s case, he was paired with Chris Wideman for the first two games, and they struggled together. Romanov looked very indecisive and uncomfortable playing alongside Wideman: there was no chemistry, and neither man could play their game. In the third game, Romanov was paired with Jeff Petry, and he played a solid game and looked more comfortable, which makes sense given that’s who he played with all preseason.

The Canadiens played well for the first and third games. They outshot and out-hit both the Leafs and Rangers. If they can start getting bodies to the front of the net and creating some better offence, they should begin to score more goals, not only five on five but also the PP. This team has many offensive weapons. It’s just finding the right combination to make them all work.

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