A season that started 9-0-0, and 12-2-1 in the first 15, things very certainly rosy in Montreal. Many fans had started planning the parade, can’t blame them. No one, not even the most respected hockey men, could’ve predicted what happened. Sure, the Canadiens wouldn’t be as good without Carey Price. But, to go from Stanley Cup favourite to one of worst teams in the league, that’s really hard to do. What happened? Well, here are the facts, followed by some theories based on the facts.
Price’s SV% is 0.934 this season, he has a record of 10-2, with losses in Vancouver and Edmonton. Currently, the Canadiens have 54 points, meaning in the 41 games without Price, only 34 points earned. Over an 82 game season, that’s 68 point pace. The Leafs had 68 points last year, and they picked 4th overall. That’s not a good pace. With Price absent, the Habs have endured losing streaks of 4, 6, 5, and 4. Up until their win against Edmonton on Feb. 6th, their record in the previous 10 was 1-8-1. The win was a shootout win against Toronto. Prior to Nov. 25, the Habs had 17 ROW, Price with 10 of them. Since, they have 5. In the 14 games during the month of December, 2 regulation wins (Columbus/Ottawa) and a shootout win against Tampa, for a record of 3-11. January’s record: 3-7-1, including a shootout win. Both months were worst in the NHL, and it wasn’t close. Condon’s SV% is 0.905, below league average. His December SV%: 0.888 with 27 goals against. It isn’t just the goalies. Their stars aren’t nearly good enough this year. Gallagher was out with a hand injury, but is having himself a decent season. Subban, a Norris trophy winner making $9.5 million, has 5 goals this season and 36 assists. He had 0 goals in the month of December, and only 6 assists. He was a point per game player January, and looks to be finding his stride, currently riding a 5-game point streak. For a player who is being paid that kind of money, his play simply hasn’t been good enough. Pacioretty had an awful December (2 goals, 3 assists). With only 4 goals in January and 19 goals in 53 games, that’s not good enough for someone coming off of 37 and 39 goal seasons. Galchenyuk is on pace for 48 points, and is a -10. He has 10 points since the beginning of December. A contending team needs more out of their 1 or 1A centre(Plekanec, the other option).These are just the core players, let’s look at the team as a whole. October: 40 GF, 21 GA (+19) November: 42 GF, 32 GA (+10) December: 22 GF, 42 GA (-20) January: 24 GF (5 on Jan. 1), 36 GA (-12). As a team, a drop-off of that magnitude is inexplicable.
Carey Price Effect
This one goes without saying. It is the most obvious one. I’m not just talking about the difference in save percentage, or goals allowed; that was earlier. The Canadiens record since Price’s injury (Nov.25), 7-20-1. That’s a total of 15 points, worst in the NHL. You cannot attribute every tangible stat falling off a cliff to this, that’s stretching it. Here’s my theory though: Consider Price’s play, his propensity to make key saves, and further, his calm demeanour in the dressing room and on the ice. It is widely accepted that he is the leader of that team, even though Pacioretty wears the “C”. Simply having Price’s demeanour and calming influence around the team has a positive impact. The impact on the psyche of individual players with him around cannot be overlooked. It is much easier to take risks and make plays when you aren’t worried that a mistake will end up in the back of your net. Such is the case with Price. Many a time, the Habs were being bailed out by Price, and the flaws in their system weren’t being exposed. Take away Price, take away the key saves, there goes the confidence. You don’t have confidence, you are going to overthink the plays now, and perhaps hesitate. Hesitations at the NHL level, they generally lead to turnovers or mistakes. Not only are you less confident, you are less likely to take offensive risks. God forbid you give up a 2 on 1 or breakaway now. With Price, you basically expected those saves; can’t say the same for many other goalies. “On a good day, Price is the best in the world. On a bad day, he’s top 5. When he has the flu, he’s still top 10” said Ray Ferraro. The impact on the team’s psyche has certainly showed. As a team, they are scoring less, taking less chances, and hesitating more. That’s the intangible effect Price has. You can’t exactly measure the impact. But it is there, and it is blatantly obvious.
Therrien Coaching Tactics
When a team slated to be a Cup contender loses one player, and all of a sudden becomes a basement dwelling team, there is more than one issue. There is no denying Price’s and Gallagher’s importance, but there are problems deeper than that. Here is what I’m talking about: Analytics show that PK Subban is dumping the puck out of his end as opposed to carrying it out, significantly more than he ever has. This is the case for the entire D core. In most cases, dumping the puck out leads to giving up possession. That means Montreal is giving the other team the puck, instead of holding onto it. That’s not a player issue. That’s a system issue. When you have the puck, you’re not defending. The more the puck gets dumped out, the more you’re defending because the other team has the puck. For the past 3 seasons, Montreal’s power play has been bottom 10 in the league. For a team with the talents of Subban, Pacioretty, Galchenyuk and others, surely there should be a power play system that succeeds more than 19% of the time. Teams with much less skill are more successful. That is a systems issue. On the opposite side, Montreal has excellent penalty killing, top 10 in the NHL. Teams that are top contenders need top 10 specialty teams to be successful in the playoffs. A power play clicking at anything less than 20% is a significant concern for Montreal. Something needs to change.
The Habs may not make the playoffs this year, they definitely don’t deserve to. If you’re on a 68 point pace when you remove one player, then there is a fundamental flaw with the team. Whether it is personnel or systems, the loss of Price should not have resulted in such a catastrophic fall. There will be blood shed, even if Bergevin says he won’t fire Therrien. It likely will not be his choice. Make no mistake, if the playoffs are missed, Therrien should lose his job. Bergevin may lose his as well, but it all remains to be seen. For now, I feel for you Habs fans. Your team should be better, they are. It just took the MVP’s absence to show that there are fundamental flaws in the team.