The Montreal Canadiens played three games last week – won one and lost two – and they put in a good effort in two games. Ironically, their inconsistency has been the only consistent part of their season, a consistent inconsistency.
In the takeaways, we’ll address three areas that stood out: special teams, superstitions and the team’s youth. They all reflect the week that was, some good, some bad and clinging to hope for the future. While this season is unlikely to end in a playoff spot, fans can look at these takeaways and assess if there have been any improvements heading into this week.
Canadiens’ Special Teams
There’s not much to take away here; the Habs’ special teams are bad, really, really bad.
The power play’s (PP) success rate this season is 14.8%, ranked 28th in the NHL. But there might be hope for Canadiens fans yet, as the PP made a dramatic leap to 20% last week to rank 10th in the league during that span. Jonathan Drouin’s return seems to have made a difference. His puck-moving ability and his vision, coupled with Nick Suzuki, have allowed for far more controlled zone entries from the top PP unit, and they have generated excellent puck movement for more quality shots on net and scoring opportunities.
The Canadiens’ penalty kill (PK), however, leaves much to be desired. 20 games into the season, the Habs’ PK ranks 29th in the NHL at a dismal 69.2%. They have allowed PP goals within seconds of taking a penalty more than once, and this impacts not only the fans’ desire to watch but the team’s belief in their chances to win.
Last week, Montreal’s PK drove further south to a woeful 57.1% to rank 30th in the league. They are the second-most penalized team (in minor penalties) in the NHL this season, and their lack of discipline -coupled with a terrible PK – has led to many more goals against than a team that averages 2.2 goals per game can overcome. While it isn’t the main reason the Canadiens have lost 15 of their first 20 games this season, it is a factor.
Coldplay’s “Fix You”
This season, the organization changed the song that the Canadiens skate out onto the ice to from Coldplay’s “Fix You” to Rage Against the Machine’s “Bulls on Parade.” Since this season has been especially bad, the players have looked for anything to change the vibe around the dressing room, and that started with Joel Edmundson asking to change the song back to Coldplay.
Of course, that’s just superstitious. However, superstition can affect an attitude. Maybe it was the embarrassing one-sided 6-0 loss at home to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Nov. 18 that motivated the team, or the song change provided a mental or spiritual boost, but the Habs came out flying on Saturday night against the Nashville Predators. They exploded for six goals for the second time this season, giving the home crowd something to cheer about.
Even if the Predators game ended 6-3 after the Habs had a 5-0 lead after two periods, the Canadiens gave their fans a show they have been missing. We can only hope one superstitious change will lead to others for a more entertaining season ahead.
The Canadiens’ youth has been one of the few bright spots this season. Suzuki has shown flashes of being that top-line center the team has been looking for for years. He is on pace for a 60-point season and his faceoff success rate last week was 56.1%, a significant rise over his season average of 47.7%. If he can continue at this pace, in a down season, fans can hope for the team’s future.
Another bright spot at center has been Ryan Poehling. His two goals last week, coupled with some solid defensive play in the bottom six and good puck possession – 58% Corsi-for and Fenwick-for of 51.8% – means his line controlled play more often than their opponent. With three goals in six games and averaging only 10:58 of ice time per game, it’s safe to say he is beginning to reach the potential the team saw in him when he was drafted in the first round in 2017.
On the blue line, Alexander Romanov and Mattias Norlinder have given fans a glimpse of a bright future. Romanov’s physical style paired with his mobility has worked well on the second pairing. Norlinder has shown his mobility, his puck-moving abilities and strength on the power play. Both 21-year-old defenders still need time to grow into their expected roles, but they’re showing that they fit the mould of the modern NHL defenceman.
There is no rest for the weary as the Canadiens have three games this week, facing the Penguins, Buffalo Sabres and Alex Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals, starting on Wednesday.
Blain is a regular contributor as a THW Writer. For over 7 years he has been a part time journalist and podcaster covering the NHL, the Montreal Canadiens and its affiliates. He has made appearances on various television and radio stations as well as podcasts to discuss the Canadiens, and the NHL. Blain has taken the lessons on integrity, ethics, values and honesty that he has learned as a 28 year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces and applied them to his work as a journalist to guide him in informing his readers and his goal of being a trusted source of information and entertainment.