clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Canadiens vs Panthers recap: Habs put another 2 points on the board they don't deserve

New, comments

"You can't argue with success!" Actually you can, especially when it's short term and everything points toward future failure.

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

You have to give Michel Therrien a bit of credit when it comes to the lineup the Montreal Canadiens are icing. Most of the old coach's ridiculous hesitancies are gone these days. Nathan Beaulieu is playing on the second pairing, Alex Galchenyuk is playing center, Alexei Emelin was relegated to the third pairing, Michael Bournival is in the lineup, Dale Weise isn't playing on the top two lines, and as far as we know, Mike Weaver and Bryan Allen are essentially healthy scratches.

Photo credit: hockeystats.ca

There's a problem though, even with all these positive changes, the Canadiens can't seem to outplay any opponent, ever. In their last 11 games, the Canadiens have outplayed their opponents while the score was close just a single time, eight games ago against Vancouver, a team at the end of a long, unsuccessful road trip. The team was soaring high in their first game back home after their own road trip, and after honouring the eternal great, Jean Beliveau.

Since then, the Habs are controlling a miserable 43.4% of shot attempts while the score is within a goal, conceding just under 10 more shot attempts per game than they produce while the score is within reach. The team has a monstrously horrid shot differential in particular when Alexei Emelin is on the ice, controlling just 33.8% of shot attempts. Facing weaker competition on the third pairing on Tuesday, while Emelin was on the ice the Habs had just 25.9% of shot attempts.

I defended Emelin for a long time, thinking that he could adjust his game to the NHL, and that his punishing hits would be something the Canadiens could use. It's become obvious that I was wrong there, Emelin has made a case over two years now that he's not even an NHL level defenseman. Signed to a gargantuan anchor of a contract that has a no movement and no trade clause, he's going to get plenty of chances to improve, but this is a player that should never see more than 12-16 minutes of ice time per game. He just can't keep up with the physical or mental speed of the game.

Personnel isn't really the problem, though

Anyone who knows anything about hockey can see that the Habs have the ability to ice a team four lines and three pairings deep. They have two excellent goaltenders capable of stealing games, and one that seems to do it on a majority of his starts.

They have talent in spades, they have as many as seven forwards capable of scoring 20 goals in a season, and one in that group is capable of scoring 40. Yet the scorers consistently underachieve, the team rarely produces shots (20th in the NHL in shots per minute at even strength, 27th in shots per minute on the powerplay, 27th in shots per minute while shorthanded), and sucks at preventing shots against too (20th in the NHL in shots against per minute at even strength, 25th on the powerplay, 11th while shorthanded).

Zone clearances have been laborious and agonizing to watch for 136 games and counting, zone entries are the same story, and defensive coverage ranges from competent to a circus act that would be banned in most countries.

Yet the Habs keep winning, and most fans and media seem to think that everything is peachy-keen. The fact is, the Canadiens in December led the entire NHL with a .947 save percentage at even strength, led the entire NHL with a .938 save percentage in all situations, led the entire NHL with a 12% shooting percentage in all situations, and were second in the NHL with a 10.5% shooting percentage at even strength.

Simply put, the Habs are getting by on the brilliance of Carey Price, part of which is him being on a hot streak, and an absolute ton of lucky goals bouncing in their favour. We know from tons of past examples that this can not and will not last, and the Montreal Canadiens do not control enough of the flow of play to win games when the percentages don't go in their favour.

Maybe all you can see is the win column and the warning signs fall on deaf ears for you, but I don't believe for a fraction of a second that Marc Bergevin can watch his team be outplayed 20 of the last 28 games, 20 of the last 24 that weren't against bottom feeders like Buffalo and Colorado, and not realize that something is wrong.

Right now, the coaching staff that can't even coordinate a competent zone entry on the powerplay looks untouchable, but when things swing the other way for the Canadiens in terms of percentages, they won't be.

Oh yeah, the Habs beat the Florida Panthers in a shootout in a game where they were thoroughly dominated at even strength (again) by a group of well coached kids. Dustin Tokarski and Roberto Luongo put on a goaltending clinic, and Nathan Beaulieu was awesome. That's about all there is to take from that game.