Missed Offside Masks Montreal’s Major Issue

The Montreal Canadiens came out flying in Game 1 of their second round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but ultimately fell in a double overtime defeat. The Habs outshot the visitors 44-35, dominated the play for long stretches, hit the post twice, but in the end, the found themselves down 1-0 in the series.

The two teams went scoreless in the first two periods, with both Carey Price and Ben Bishop carrying shutout streaks over 100 minutes into the third frame. Just when it appeared no team would ever score, Tyler Johnson, who leads the NHL in goals this postseason, tipped a Matt Carle point shot past Price to give Tampa Bay the 1-0 lead.

The Habs finally tied the game with 5:13 to play in regulation on a Max Pacioretty wrist shot that Bishop whiffed on, sending the game to extra time. The Canadiens once again led the shot clock in the first overtime period, 13-8, but it was the Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov who put the only puck in the net. The goal was immediately waved off, as Kucherov shoved Price into the net with the puck, and the two teams headed to a second overtime.

Once again, Kucherov fired a puck past Price, 2:06 into the fifth period, and once again, controversy ensued. It was revealed after the fact that the Lightning were a step offside when they entered the Habs zone just prior to Kucherov’s goal. In hindsight, it appears Kucherov’s second overtime goal in the same game, also should not have counted, but the goal stood and the Lightning took the first win in what promises to be a long series.

The controversy surrounding Kucherov’s goal, not the one that was waved off, but the one that counted, has taken focus away from the Canadiens real problem. Reality is, Kucherov could have scored half of a dozen goals last night before the Montreal Canadiens were going to find the back of Tampa’s net.

The Habs one goal was a run-of-the-mill wrister off the rush that any National Hockey League goaltender should easily stop. Montreal was lucky that Pacioretty’s shot glanced off the glove of Bishop, and bounced into the net behind him.

Call it bad luck or being snake bit, but Montreal has scored just six goals in five games since Andrew Hammond of the Ottawa Senators was replaced by Craig Anderson in Game 3 of the opening round series. One of those goals was an empty netter in the dying seconds of Game 6, so the Canadiens have beaten a goaltender just five times in their last five games.

Scoring notoriously goes down in the postseason, and this year is no exception. Just ask Steven Stamkos, who the Habs are currently facing. The Lightning sniper is one of the best goal scorers in the world, but is yet to score in eight playoff games this spring.

Even with Price in net and scoring at such a premium, the Habs are going to have to find a way to score more than once per game if they are going to win, or even extend this series.

Habs Power Play Is A Power Outage

A great place to start would be finding a way to wake up a dormant power play. The Canadiens have been dreadful all year with the man advantage, ranking 23rd with a 16.5% conversion rate. So, we can’t expect the Habs to suddenly score on every other power play, but they have just one goal in 23 tries in the postseason, scoring on a pitiful 4.4% of their chances.

P.K. Subban
(Icon SMI)

Again, we can’t expect them to score on every opportunity, but they went 0 for 3 in Game 1, when going just 1 for 3 would have been enough to turn a loss into a win. Michel Therrien finally mixed up the failing power play for the start of the second round, but took the absolute wrong person off the top unit in Andrei Markov, while leaving David Desharnais and Brendan Gallagher out there, even though they have struggled to score with the man advantage all year.

Markov led all Habs skaters in power play points per 60 minutes of ice time, with 5.21 and took a back seat on the PP in Game 1, while Gallagher scored 2.49 PPP/60, but remained in front of Bishop on the man advantage. Lars Eller also sits during the PP, but scored 3.33 PPP/60 in the regular season, though he was used very sparingly.

The problem with the Canadiens power play was not Markov and P.K. Subban on the blue line, who were both top ten among defenseman in power play points in the regular season. The problem is both Desharnais and Gallagher fail to get the job done, while Tomas Plekanec and Eller are more effective, but don’t get the same opportunity.

Desharnais Needs To Turn Prime Ice Time Into Production

Speaking of Desharnais, he is third among Habs forwards in both even strength and power play ice time, but has zero goals and two assists in seven playoff games. The 5’7” forward has a paltry two goals and ten assists in 32 career playoff games, played almost exclusively on the same line as Pacioretty, the Habs best forward.

Isn’t it time to tell Desharnais to take a seat? If not in the press box, at least a back seat to Plekanec and Eller, who have proven time and time again to be better centers? If he is not going to bring any offense, why is he playing with offensive players?

In fact, if you look at the shot attempts from last night’s contest, Desharnais somehow sticks out far below any other skater on the Canadiens. When Desharnais was on the ice at even strength in Game 1, the Lightning had 18 more shot attempts than the Habs. The next worst player on Montreal was Alex Galchenyuk, who was on for nine more shot attempts by the Lightning.

Somehow, Desharnais found a way to be stranded in his own zone far more than any other Habs skater, even his most frequent linemates.

Underlying Numbers Suggest Goals Are Coming

Speaking of the “advanced” stats, if you will allow me for a minute, there are many encouraging signs from last night’s double overtime loss. First of all, the Canadiens line of Pacioretty-Plekanec-Gallagher absolutely dominated when they were on the ice. The Habs top line from last night had 67% of the shot attempts, a sure sign they were all over the Lightning.

The defense pairing of Alexei Emelin and Jeff Petry also had a strong game, and Andrei Markov was the only defender on the ice for more Lightning shot attempts than Habs attempts. The Eller line similarly played well, and fourth liners Torrey Mitchell and Devante Smith-Pelly more than held their own.

The Habs have been getting many chances to score, hitting posts and being turned away by a handful of great saves by Bishop, and Anderson in the previous round. The big problem is that they can not convert these chances into goals right now.

Max Pacioretty is one of four players who have a very good chance at taking home the Masterton Trophy this summer (Icon SMI)
Max Pacioretty (Icon SMI)

The Canadiens were the lowest scoring team in the regular season to make the playoffs, but finished strong down the stretch of the regular season, averaging three goals per game in the last 14 games of the season. They had four 20 goal scorers in Pacioretty, Plekanec, Gallagher and Galchenyuk, but only Pacioretty is reaching that level in the postseason.

It really is just a matter of time before the others start finding the back of the net. Plekanec scored 26 times in the regular season, had a shooting percentage of 10.5%, but has a playoff shooting percentage of 3.7%. Gallagher was at 9.4% in the regular season, but is shooting just 3.2% in the postseason, and Galchenyuk’s 12.3% from the regular season has dipped to 6.7%.

Either all of these players forgot how to score goals overnight, or they haven’t had the same luck in the playoffs that they had in the regular season. Considering all three of them are averaging more shots on goal per game in the playoffs, I’d say it is just a matter of time before these three goal scorers break out of their slumps.

The only question is, can they break out before it is too late? With the Lightning winning Game 1, it won’t be long before they have a complete stranglehold on the series if the bounces don’t go the Habs way in Game 2 and 3.