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The Montreal Canadiens need to stop the shell game

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The instinct when holding onto a lead is to play back, but is it hurting more than helping?

NHL: Arizona Coyotes at Montreal Canadiens Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

The Montreal Canadiens scored early in the third period to take a 2-1 lead over the Arizona Coyotes and then fell back into their defensive shell to hold for the win.

They were an offside review away from blowing that lead, and it was a common refrain from this season for Montreal. When they sit back with a lead, the opposition takes advantage.

The Canadiens are strongest when they skate. Their defensive zone coverage may be one of the weaker parts of their game, even though it is better than it had been. In the third period, the Coyotes completely closed the gap in shot attempts Montreal opened up in the first 40 minutes. The eight shot advantage was gone after the third. The scoring chances were 6-1 Arizona, and the Coyotes had three of their five high danger chances at even strength in the period.

Teams will be more desperate when trailing late, that’s normal. The Canadiens just don’t have the personnel to sit back and keep them to the outside. NHL teams will find the holes in the coverage, and if it wasn’t for the recent exploits of Carey Price or Antti Niemi, they would potentially lose points because of it.

It’s a hard mentality to break and I don’t think it’s necessarily the coaching staff preaching this. Players will instinctively drop back and play safer when they want to win. But they should get together and continue to play their game. After all, the other team can’t score when you have possession in the offensive zone.

Sometimes the best defence is a good offence, and not even just to add goals to the lead but just in terms of possession itself. Carey Price is back to playing the way we expect him to play, and the Canadiens can afford to play a bit faster with a lead.

And they should, because they’ve shown that teams can exploit them when they sit back.