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The Montreal Canadiens got to the Stanley Cup Final on the back of strong defensive play. They locked down top offensive forwards and potent power plays for three rounds to get within four wins of the ultimate prize. Right after that run came to and end, it was revealed that Shea Weber had been emptying what was left in the tank, playing perhaps the final games of his career.
Not long after that news, Phillip Danault look his Selke Trophy-calibre defensive play to the opposite corner of North America. Then in the pre-season, we learned that Carey Price and Joel Edmundson would be missing when things officially got under way. A significant drop in the team’s defensive acumen was therefore expected.
The offensive play abandoning the club at the same time wasn’t part of the plan.
Through the first two games, the Habs have scored two goals. There have been eight power plays, including a stint at five-on-three in both contests, and the units have a 0% efficiency. Even if the team was still intact from the shocking playoff run, that wouldn’t have been enough to pull out a win in the opening games. With what they have to work with right now, they’ll need to get things going, and fast.
Tale of the Tape
|37.4% (24th)||Scoring-chances-for %||47.5% (16th)|
|1.00 (24th)||Goals per game||1.50 (23rd)|
|3.50 (14th)||Goals against per game||4.00 (16th)|
|0.0% (20th)||PP%||11.1% (19th)|
|55.6% (21st)||PK%||50.0% (22nd)|
|1-2-0||H2H Record (19-20)||2-1-0|
Things were looking promising at times in the pre-season. There was plenty of individual skill on display, with players pulling pucks around defenders to get chances, and lots of lateral movement on the power play. There were two units with goal-scoring ability, and that long-standing weakness of the team seemed to be set to start the year.
Creativity has been lacking so far. Those east-west passes that featured on the man advantage have been replaced with timid shuffles around the top of the zone and shots from distance that are easy to defend. It’s a waste of the talent the team has put together, and, quite frankly, makes you wonder what the coaching staff had been working on during its final week of preparations between the pre-season and the start of the regular campaign.
There is good news. The most maddening thing in this situation is that we all know the team has the skill to start finding the back of the net. There are other fanbases that don’t have that silver lining and are doomed to watch a low-scoring team. A club with Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, Brendan Gallagher, Jonathan Drouin, Josh Anderson, and Tyler Toffoli isn’t going to average one goal per game, but there will need to be some fundamental changes in the way they’ve been seeking their offence.
The New York Rangers are in the same situation. They’re just ahead of Montreal in the goals department after two contests and sit winless on the season. In most statistical categories, the teams can be found a spot or two apart.
Unlike the Canadiens who anticipated the defensive issues and added more offensive talent to compensate (the additions of Christian Dvorak, Chris Wideman, and the injured Mike Hoffman were the main ones), the Rangers were focused on become grittier and tougher in a bid to protect the offensive players they did have from more physical clubs in the Metropolitan Division. A trade of Pavel Buchnevich, who was fourth on the Rangers with 48 points last year, for the 6’2” Sammy Blais who doesn’t have that many points over four seasons says all you need to know about that change in direction.
Will that grit pay off for the team and allow them to grind down defences for Artemiy Panarin and Mika Zibanejad to go to work, or will decommissioning some of their offensive firepower prove to be a mistake? Marc Bergevin has been down that same road in the past, and the results were far from ideal as a contending team turned into one that failed to make the post-season for several consecutive years. In that respect, you can view tonight’s matchup at the Bell Centre as a test of which strategy is the more effective — provided the Canadiens can perform like the offensive team they’re constructed to be.