Canadian: 7 things to fix to bring “the game” to the playoffs

2024-01-12 20:30:00

During the golf tournament officially launching the Canadian’s season, the team’s staff was careful not to pronounce the “p” word, thus avoiding creating expectations among the fans. Here we are halfway through the campaign and the Habs are still playing significant matches.

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In fact, Martin St-Louis’ squad was even in the game after the emotional victory against the New York Rangers last Saturday.

Except that since then, losses against the Flyers and the poor Sharks, matches played without emotion, suggest problems under the hood. The battery is starting to lose efficiency and the engine has started to overheat.

At the time of writing, the Montrealers were seven points behind the last place giving access to the playoffs, with two games in hand on the Lightning, holder of this last place.

So all is not lost. Provided, of course, that Kent Hughes and Martin St-Louis are inclined to clean the pistons. When we see management imposing three goalkeepers at this stage of the campaign, we can doubt it.

Especially as rumors of a trade involving Sean Monahan intensify as the March 8 deadline approaches. With Jake Allen and Monahan on the market, we understand that the general manager of the Canadiens will act more like a tank smuggler from the port of Montreal: he will try to profit from a few spare parts of a certain value.

But if Hughes ever wanted to deviate from his plan, he would have to hope that St-Louis, his trusted mechanic, would fix the following seven problems:

Discipline and numerical inferiority

Getty Images via AFP

When you’re one of the least efficient shorthanded teams, it’s important to avoid the penalty box as much as possible. However, this is not the recipe that the Habs use. The Montreal defensive unit ranks 28th on the Bettman circuit with a measly 73%. In fact, only one team has allowed more short-man goals than the Canadiens and Wild’s 37. It is the Sharks, with 40. Conversely, it is the fifth most punished team in the NHL with 156 minor penalties. At least, against the Rangers, we could see that some corrections had been made. This is a good sign, but it doesn’t mean it will last long. Avoiding punishment, especially in the offensive zone (which often happens with the Canadian) remains the best way to avoid exposing yourself too much.

Breaking down the three-goalie rotation

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Photo Martin Chevalier

We understand that Kent Hughes wanted to keep three goalkeepers in Montreal for fear of finding himself in trouble if Samuel Montembeault did not renew his contract with the team. This has been done since December 1st. However, the ménage à trois still continues. The situation is not ideal for anyone, starting with Montembeault himself. If he is the team’s number one goalie, let us act as such by making him guard at least two games out of three and giving him the net following a grandiose performance. Moreover, within this trio, the Bécancourois is the only one to show a winning record and to have a goals against average below 3.00. If the Canadian wants to win, it takes Montembeault in the net.

Improve starts and ends of matches

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Photo Martin Chevalier

The Canadian has yet to lose this season when leading after two periods (10-0-0), but he has played with fire on a few occasions. He must learn to manage his advances a little more effectively. He must also be on time for the start of the matches. The opponent opened the scoring 25 times. Only New Jersey (27) was more generous. If you’re an offensive powerhouse like the Devils, who came from behind and won 13 times, it is as is. However, this is not the case for the Habs. He turned the tide on only seven occasions.

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Leave the infirmary

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Photo Martin Chevalier

The Canadian led the NHL in the number of games missed by players over the last two seasons (599 in 2021-2022 and 600 in 2022-2023, according to the site nhlinjuryviz). The situation had become so grotesque that Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes decided, at the end of the last campaign, to clean up their therapeutic department team. Considering the seriousness of past massacres, there has been a clear improvement. Excluding Carey Price and Chris Wideman from the equation, Canadiens players have missed 188 games. However, the loss of some key players for an extended period, such as Kirby Dach, 39 games, Newhook (18), Dvorak (16), Harvey-Pinard (27), Harris (17), Savard (22), Pearson (14 ), affected the depth of the team and made it difficult to evaluate what each of them had to offer. Moreover, Dach and Dvorak will not return this season, which will increase the number of missed matches.

Offer consistency

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Photo Martin Chevalier

One of the reasons why the Canadian is still in the game this late in the season is that he was able to avoid too long streaks of setbacks. He had three with at least three defeats (0-3-1, 0-4-0, 0-3-0). But to move up the rankings, even these short sequences should be avoided. Instead, you have to be able to achieve victories. Due to his inconsistency, he has not been able to stretch a streak to more than two victories. It would have been possible to do it last week, but his big victories against Dallas and the Rangers were interspersed with a poor performance against the Sabres.

Cole Caufield and his touch

The Canadian is one of the teams who have won the most matches by a margin of one goal (12), but also one of those who have lost the most (12 including 6 in tiebreakers). When games are decided by such a tight margin, it’s imperative that the big guns find the back of the net and the massive offense produces. Two reasons rather than one to hope that Cole Caufield hits the target as regularly as last year. It can make the difference.

Moving parts

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Photo Agence QMI, Thierry Laforce

Since he was systematically aiming for a playoff spot, Marc Bergevin entered the buyers’ camp every time his team was still in the fight as the trade deadline approached. Kent Hughes may be hesitant to do so. We must not forget that at the golf tournament kicking off the team’s season, we avoided pronouncing the “p” word. Sacrificing the future to improve the team in the short term is definitely not in his plans. He would rather be the type to fill his bank of choices even more, already rich with 22 rights to speak during the next two drafts, in order to have ammunition full of ammunition when the time really comes to move on to the next step.

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