There are reasons to be positive about the Canadiens

Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

In spite of a string of losses in a tough stretch of games, there are reasons to be positive about the Habs.

Let's get the negativity out of the way first. The defensive usage isn't getting any better. If anything, since the Olympics it's gotten a whole lot worse. Douglas Murray's ice time is up, P.K. Subban's ice time is down, and in general Michel Therrien continues to show that he doesn't have a clue which defensemen are good at what.

With all that said, the Montreal Canadiens have outplayed their opponents at even strength in four of the last seven games, something the Habs haven't done since a stretch between November 15 to 29 when they outplayed opponents five times in seven games. The difference between then and now though, is the group of opponents Montreal has faced in March includes contenders like the Sharks, Kings, Ducks, Penguins and now the Bruins. Out of that group of five elite teams (at least in terms of points accrued), Montreal outplayed three of them, but won only two of them.

Peter Budaj deserves a healthy dose of blame for that. He's not accustomed to being relied upon like he is right now, and the competition he's facing has been extreme, but .855 goaltending is inexcusable. He's an NHL goaltender, and that's way below league average. Some goals have been unstoppable, but there have been a lot of bananas in there that any goalie should have stopped.

The fact is, the Canadiens have actually been playing some very solid hockey, especially when you separate out Douglas Murray's ice time.

Murray-wowy

That mark without Murray is extremely solid, especially considering the quality of Montreal's opponents. It's a small sample size for certain, but it's the most dominant stretch of play the Canadiens have put forth since October, and that's a good thing.

It's a long shot considering how he's been deployed and the fact that Therrien seems to love him, but if the Canadiens actually begin to scratch Murray and play some combination of Subban, Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges (when healthy), Nathan Beaulieu, Jarred Tinordi, Mike Weaver, and Alexei Emelin, there's a possibility that even working within Therrien's nonsensical system, this team is too talented to play awful.

Also positive has been the play of Thomas Vanek. Make no mistake, his lack of goals so far is not a result of bad play. Vanek has a ridiculous 62.9% Fenwick through three games with the Habs, and a relative Fenwick of +21%, meaning the team's Fenwick% is 21% better while Vanek is on the ice than off of it.

So if everything is going so well, why are the Habs on a losing streak? It's as simple as as PDO. To put it simply, the Habs are getting unlucky right now, which was bound to happen after a huge streak of good luck. In their last seven games the Canadiens have a 7.75% team shooting percentage at even strength, to go along with a 88.11% save percentage at even strength. The seven games going into the Olympics, the Habs scored on 8.81% of their shots at even strength, and Carey Price stopped 97.99% of all even strength shots against.

Montreal was running hot and playing poorly, and is now playing well and running cold. It happens, and it's really not worth panicking about right now. The roster of this team is too good for it to miss the playoffs, even with Therrien, even with Murray. Should there be an epiphany and they actually begin to ice the best roster, they might actually do something worthwhile.

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