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The Canadiens’ special teams woes loom large against Wild

Montreal allows four power play goals, still can’t score with man advantage.

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Minnesota Wild Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

Hockey teams will have stinkers throughout a season, and Thursday night should go down as a night you just file and forget about. Move on to the next game.

It would be much easier if a continuous problem for the Montreal Canadiens didn’t rear its ugly head once more.

The Canadiens allowed seven goals against the Minnesota Wild in a 7-1 road loss Thursday. The home team went a perfect four-for-four on the man advantage. To make matters worse, the Wild scored a shorthanded marker on the Canadiens’ lone power play opportunity of the night. Montreal’s power play hasn’t scored since a win over the New York Rangers Dec. 1, and has gone 0-for-12 since.

Through 31 games, this team’s biggest weakness has proven to be their special teams. Montreal has the league’s second worst power play at 13.5 per cent. There’s also nothing to boast about when your penalty kill rate is at 76 per cent, good for sixth-worst in the league.

Unlike teams like Winnipeg, Colorado, and Tampa, who all lead the league in power play (in that order), the Canadiens’ power play attack is one-dimensional as most of their shots come from the point. It helps having a player like Shea Weber who can fire shots from the point, but the graph above shows they’re lacking in shots from high danger areas and they could use more action coming from the boards. Speaking of which...

Those same wings are also Achilles heels for the Canadiens on the penalty kill. In fact, both Matthew Dumba goals came from opposite sides of the faceoff circle. The defenceman was untouched and had enough space and time — he didn’t need much — to place a shot.

There’s his first of the night where he switches places with Ryan Suter, well away from the Canadiens’ four-man box before taking a pass from Mikael Granlund in the second period:

And Dumba’s second, coming in the third period. If you’re thinking “déja vu”, you’re not far off. Both goals came from Granlund passes that cut right through the four-man box to a wide open Dumba.

While closing a passer down to limit his options might be a good idea, both Jordie Benn and Phil Danault give Granlund too much room to maneuver. Weber picks up on Dumba here, but the defenceman ends up wiring home a shot from the faceoff circle. But let’s focus on closing a passer down for a moment. Above, we have what happens when you give a player too much wiggle room.

Here, Jonathan Drouin is holding on the puck as Minnesota Wild centre Charlie Coyle is giving chase. Dumba, again, is also blocking a potential passing lane as well. Yes, Drouin could’ve made the pass to the nearest Hab to his left, but he instead tries to make the cutting pass through the Wild defence, only for Dumba’s stick to get in the way. Pressure can sometimes force even the best players to make mistakes and this one ends up proving costly for the Habs. Coyle, who applies pressure in the beginning, ends up being the goalscorer.

Eric Staal and Jared Spurgeon scored the other two Wild power play goals, both coming off rebounds. Staal used his body to bypass Danault and defenceman David Schlemko to score. On Spurgeon’s goal, Jason Zucker did a great job making an extra pass to Spurgeon in the slot directly in front of the net instead of shooting from an angle.

Needless to say, the Wild took advantage of their opportunities while the Canadiens did not. Not to be lost in this, the Wild deserve credit for being disciplined on the night, taking only one penalty.

As for Montreal, after a solid night on the penalty kill against Chicago, it’s back to the drawing board with their special teams from top to bottom.