Sunday, April 13, 2014

Canadiens Worries in the Playoffs

While most Montreal Canadiens fans are ecstatic for the upcoming playoffs and are getting ready for a nice long run by their beloved Habs, there are some pretty glaring issues that should be addressed. I don't want to rain on anybody's parade here, but I'm trying to be as realistic as possible. Possession is bad, scoring chances are bad, system is consistently in question, and certain players are not being used appropriately.

Is it good that Montreal finished with 100 points? Absolutely. Is it good that Carey Price finished with a career best save percentage? No question about it. So why all the doubt? because there are certain things in the NHL that are unsustainable and Montreal's ability to win games the way they do, might be one of those.

Montreal is a bottom five possession team in the league with a mere Corsi for percentage of 47.2%. The only teams below the Canadiens are Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, and Buffalo. None of whom are playoff teams. Not even close. This is definitely not a good sign, and if it continues down this road, well, take a look at Toronto. A team who went from a comfortable playoff spot to kicked out in a matter of weeks. Montreal's possession numbers are about 5% better, which should be alarming. Can Montreal be a dominant possession team? yes. In fact, they recently had a 60% Corsi for against the Chicago Blackhawks, a western powerhouse and a serious Cup contender. Prior to that, they held an excellent 63.6% against Anaheim, who nearly won the President's Trophy. This should tell you that Montreal's real problem is consistency. They have far too many games where they simply don't try, or give up. That needs to end, and quickly.

A lot of people have been questioning Michel Therrien's system and placing a lot of blame on him in regards to Montreal's poor play, in particular their poor possession numbers. I can't say that it is all the coach. Therrien did not take a successful possession team and run them into the ground (like what Randy Carlyle is becoming notorious for). Montreal's possession numbers have stayed relatively consistent dating back to 2011-12 with Martin/Cunneyworth at the helm. So, Therrien haters can relax a little bit. What Therrien has tried to do is create a dump and chase team, who battles in the corners, and grinds out some not-always-pretty type of goals. This team is not built for that, and it is seriously hindering the players abilities on the ice.

Montreal has some very creative players, who can hold the zone, put pressure on, and create scoring chances when they use that talent. Subban has been on a tight leash all season and if Montreal wants to succeed, Therrien needs to let him loose and reign havoc from the blue line. Benching (arguably) your best defenseman, will not help this team win. Douglas Murray is not a top-six defenseman on this Canadiens team and it is hard to justify giving him so many important minutes against players who will blow his doors off. Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi are better options than Francis Boullion, and Douglas Murray and should be utilized to their strengths. All I'm saying is, Michel, sometimes you've got to risk it to get the biscuit.

On Twitter this morning, I saw a good friend of mine post a chart he made on scoring chance percentages for teams in the playoffs. What I saw was less than impressive.
Graph via @toddcordell
Clearly, Montreal is far behind in this category. Scoring chances are extremely important especially for a team who is currently having some serious struggles on the power play, and who has poor possession numbers. Having now gone eight games without a power play goal, Montreal is relying solely on their 5v5 scoring. Even if Montreal's power play starts to heat up again, their scoring chances at even strength still needs improving.

What is even more alarming in the previous graph is that Tampa Bay, Montreal's first round opponent, is sitting at 51%, and have defeated the Habs in three of four match ups this season. This will be one hell of a series however early on, advantage Tampa Bay.

Montreal is capable of winning games, and at times, can be a serious contender coming out of a wide open Eastern Conference. The frustrating part is that the Canadiens consistency will always be in question, no matter how well they are playing. This, above all, is their biggest problem contributing to all of the negative statistics looming over this club right now. If Montreal comes into these playoffs playing their highest level of hockey and proving they are a force to reckon with, I can certainly see them shocking a lot of opposing teams.

Thank you for the read, and feel free to leave a comment!
follow me on twitter @Darrinharmy


I think you've about nailed it. I DO NOT have a lot of confidence in the Habs - especially with their coach being able to overcome problems when they appear. Therrien just doesn't have it and gets outcoached most games. I don't believe he is using his personnel correctly and that has been a big problem all year - leading to the inconsistency you mention. It's going to be a tough series for the Habs to win.

I'm not that confident going into the playoffs, either, and I don't think we should give Therrien a "free pass" if the team loses in the first round. With the way Subban has been treated, and with MB getting Vanek, the pressure falls squarely on Therrien to make a deep run this year.

That being said, I'd rather see Tinordi and Beaulieu over Murray and Bouillon, but it won't happen. I'd rather see them play puck posession instead of dump & chase, but not sure they'll do that, either.

I think Price will have to steal a couple of wins this round, then wait for the next round. If the Pax-DD-Vanek line can get some goals, though, I can see them going far.

My 2¢...

Is the Habs corsi percentage listed for the entire season? Would you happen to know the number since the Vanek trade? We have seen less dump and chase from the top two lines since Vanek entered the lineup. Overall, going to be a tight series. TB has our number, but barely.

Thanks for the input guys! it will definitely be an interesting series. If they don't go very deep I can see Therrien's job being on the line. He needs to step up and do something big to lead this team.

The corsi I used is on the year,since Vanek has come aboard the teams possession numbers dropped to an average of 45.8%.

But you're right about the top lines not dumo and chasing. Vanek much prefers the seam pass or the quick break in, and his creativity and vision allows him to. It's nice to see that ability, hopefully it rubs off on the rest of the lineup

All the attention will be on the DD line. If we don't get scoring from the other lines we'll be gone in 5 or 6

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