Canadiens’ Playoff Push Needs Drouin

Prior to a sloppy Feb. 19 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Montreal Canadiens had lost four games in a row, the last three of which came in regulation. The timing of the Habs’ poor play could not be worse. Only three points separate the Canadiens, Blue Jackets and Carolina Hurricanes for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.

Coincidentally, Jonathan Drouin may have played his worst four games as part of the Canadiens organization during the losing streak. Drouin’s poor play needs to improve, and soon, to keep the Habs in a playoff position.

Montreal Canadiens Jonathan Drouin Tampa Bay Lightning Dan Girardi
Montreal Canadiens Jonathan Drouin shoots after being tripped by Tampa Bay Lightning Dan Girardi (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)

In all fairness, the Habs’ schedule was one of their toughest stretches of the season. The inept power play, turnovers and inconsistent goaltending all contributed to the losing streak. The Habs’ losing streak cannot solely be put on the shoulders of Drouin, but when he is playing his best, the Canadiens win.

Drouin Has the Ability to Be Elite

For the most part, Drouin has handled the Montreal pressure very well and has delivered some great play for the Canadiens. He was acquired from the Tampa Bay Lightning for the start of the 2017-18 season. As a young and extremely talented French Canadian,  joining the Canadiens came with extremely high expectations. The Habs have been looking for a French Canadian superstar since Pierre Turgeon had a 96-point season in 1995-96.

It is still early to to pass the torch to Drouin, but at just 23 years old, he is on-pace for the best statistical season of his career with 46 points through 60 games. He is only seven points shy of his career-best 53 points in 2016-17 as a member of the Lightning.

There have been stretches of games this season where Drouin has not only been the best player on the Habs, but looked like one of the best players in the NHL. Most recently, in three games from Feb. 3 to Feb. 7 against the Edmonton Oilers, Anaheim Ducks and Winnipeg Jets, Drouin was sensational.

In those three games, Drouin registered three goals and six assists for nine points. He looked like he was playing at a completely different level than anyone else on the ice. He was flat out dominant during these games, and most importantly, the Habs won all three.

Drouin’s Struggles

While Drouin can be one of the best players in the NHL, he can sometimes look like just the opposite. In his last five games, he has failed to register a point and had minus-seven rating. In the first period against the Nashville Predators on Feb. 14, with the game scoreless, he tried to force a long pass out of the defensive zone. The pass was intercepted and the Predators’ Ryan Hartman scored the first goal of the game.

During the third period of a Feb. 16 game against the Lightning, Drouin tried a cross-ice pass through the neutral zone. This time it was Yanni Gourde who intercepted the pass and scored to put the Habs away.

A player of Drouin’s caliber cannot make those plays, especially against elite teams. When he is at his best, he uses his speed through the neutral zone and either makes a high percentage pass or dumps the puck into the offensive zone and chases it down. He has been especially bad against his former team. In three games against the Lightning this season, he has no points and is a minus-six. With the Lightning being a potential playoff opponent, this is a problem.

Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin
Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

As mentioned, I am not solely pinning the blame on Drouin. The Canadiens need a better effort from several others on the roster and desperately need to find more consistency in their play. However, no player on the Habs roster has the game-breaking ability that he has. The Canadiens are holding on to a Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. If Drouin doesn’t find his game soon, the Habs could find themselves on the outside looking in.