February 24, 2021 feels like so long ago. I couldn’t even tell you what the big song on the radio was then. That could have more to do with it being about 10 years since I’ve listened to music on the radio.... But, for Montreal Canadiens fans, that date is significant. That’s when head coach Claude Julien was fired. Since then, Montreal almost missed the playoffs, almost got eliminated in Round 1, and then came within three wins of a Stanley Cup.
The most interesting thing about Julien’s firing was who replaced him. You see, I was under the impression it was Alain Vigneault’s turn again to coach the Canadiens. I suppose because he wasn’t available, general manager Marc Bergevin had to call an audible.
So far, in Dominique Ducharme’s first season with a full training camp, he has his team 18th in the league in Corsi-for percentage, 20th in expected-goals-for percentage, and 22nd in goals per 60 minutes at five-on-five. Julien’s iteration last year was second in Corsi-for, first for expected goals, and first in goals per 60.
I can already see the comments about how advanced stats are nonsense, so let’s put this into real terms: the Habs’ record so far this year is 5-14-2. The Habs’ record at the time of Julien’s firing was 9-5-4.
So what’s the point of the advanced analytics? I certainly know as well as anyone does that what actually matters is that the team with the most goals wins. Every year there are teams that put up decent advanced stats and don’t do well. So I’m not saying that because the numbers were good under Julien that Montreal was destined to do well. What I am trying to say is with advanced stats that good I would have more faith that Julien’s Canadiens could get out of their funk than the current iteration.
More and more I’m starting to think that the playoff run had less to do with Ducharme’s tactics and more to do with the player core, led by Carey Price and Shea Weber, willing Montreal through the playoffs.
It’s hard to put a finger on one or two things that are making it difficult for this team to win. Certainly, I think the fact Montreal’s forwards are primarily responsible for zone exits is causing the rushing game to be ineffectual. Look at Artturi Lehkonen’s goal against the Nashville Predators. He started the breakout at one end and finished the goal at the other. That’s a lot of responsibility on one player and, in my opinion, is not something to be relied upon.
I usually like to end off my articles on a positive note, but would double negative notes do?
Ducharme and the players have both said multiple times, “the plan is there, the problem is in execution.” If old-school hockey thinking is to always take responsibility, then I would say the players are trying to, and the coach is not.
At the end of the day, if the execution has failed so much to this point, it has to be either a problem with the communication of the plan, the practising of the plan, or the plan itself.