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The Canadiens’ special teams are a big problem

Montreal went down early, and their special teams did them no favours in coming back.

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Montreal Canadiens Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

The officiating was absolutely putrid for the Montreal Canadiens’ game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday, but they can’t blame the refs for their loss, as much as I personally may like to. They started out flat, Carey Price did not have his best first period, but their abysmal special teams is what really killed them.

I say special teams because it is fair to include the penalty kill as a problem on this night. Jeff Petry was called for what was absolutely not a penalty, which gave the Penguins their second goal, but they offered very little resistance to the ensuing, albeit undeserved, power play. Once the hole was dug, they just couldn’t pull themselves out of it.

The Habs are one of the best even-strength teams in the league, and it was obvious last night that they are better than the Penguins. Their greatest flaw is that they don’t even have a partially functioning power play. They are less menacing than a unit of five Golden Retreiver puppies. It is embarrassing.

Shea Weber had a few chances to unleash his patented clapper from the point, but when he did, Matt Murray had no problem getting in the way. When the Habs work the puck toward Weber for the shot, it is too obvious, and when they don’t, they can scarcely get a shot toward the goal.

What makes things even worse is that they’re not fantastic penalty-killers either. They can’t capitalize on their opponents’ infractions, and they’re not that great at preventing their opponents from capitalizing at the other end. It’s killing them.

If they had even a middle-of-the-pack power play, they wouldn’t be battling for a wild-card spot. They would probably be ahead of the Toronto Maple Leafs, maybe the Boston Bruins as well. It is maddening, as logic dictates a strong even-strength team should be able to do some damage when the other team has fewer players on the ice.

When they beat Detroit in an 8-1 laugher, they didn’t get a single power play. Most good teams like Tampa or Toronto get momentum from their power play. The Canadiens are better off if it never gets to be on the ice. It’s a sad state of affairs.

If they want to make the playoffs, and have any kind of significant run should they do so, the special teams are going to have to be better.