There’s no beating around the bush: Montreal did not play well on Thursday against the Detroit Red Wings. A big part of that comes from a defensive group that still has not established themselves. It isn’t fair to place the blame on one pairing, as the six-man unit as a whole has failed to make any sort of impact, and is putting a hefty burden on their goaltenders’ shoulders.
Through four games, Montreal ranks fourth-worst in the NHL in expected goals against per 60 minutes of five-on-five play, at 2.54. That goes hand-in-hand with them surrendering the fifth-most scoring chances per 60 at 11.94.
It’s early, but it’s not a trend that the team wanted, especially after signing Ben Chiarot to specifically help out in that department, and with Shea Weber healthy to start year. They’re bleeding chances from between the face-off dots, and that’s something they’ll need to look into during video review of their opening week.
Part of the problem is the units are far too static in their coverage. Teams are free to enter the zone and attack because the two defenders are seemingly tethered to a five-foot radius around the goal. They’re keeping the net-front clean, but allowing many dangerous shots from players attacking with speed or stationed slightly higher in the slot.
Players like Jeff Petry and Victor Mete have the skating to be more proactive in their defensive activation, but at the same time their partners need to be more aggressive in attacking puck-carriers as well.
Against Detroit the team also hamstrung itself. Claude Julien opted to play the pairing of Christian Folin and Mikey Reilly once again. It backfired quite badly as Folin was one of the worst possession players on the team, and Reilly did not fare much better. They are not the reason for the loss, but in a game where the defence looked like it was skating in cement, the up-tempo style of Brett Kulak and Cale Fleury might have made a bit of a difference.
The sky isn’t falling quite yet, but there are some early warning signs. It’s up to the coaching staff and players to fix some of these flaws or the Montreal goaltenders are going to have a very busy season.