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There were some teams that were supposed to do poorly this season. The Arizona Coyotes didn’t attempt to hide the fact that they were in full tank mode with their eyes on the draft with some trades made for salary-cap reasons only. The Buffalo Sabres didn’t make any significant off-season adds with their superstar being on the way out, and the Ottawa Senators weren’t quite ready to put the build in their rebuild with so many of their young players lacking experience.
The Montreal Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks didn’t expect to be among them. Vancouver spent to the cap ceiling trying to fill some holes the roster had last season, bringing in Travis Hamonic and pulling off one of those cap trades with Arizona to add Conor Garland and what they hoped was an Oliver Ekman-Larsson just needing a change of scenery to rediscover his game. Marc Bergevin’s roster was significantly impacted by the injury to Shea Weber, the departure of Phillip Danault who didn’t want to re-sign, and Tomas Tatar’s fall out of favour. Bergevin filled those spots with players he hoped could compensate.
Those gambits to add David Savard, Christian Dvorak, and Mike Hoffman haven’t paid off, and now they’ve cost Bergevin his job with last year’s Stanley Cup runner-up now the fourth-worst team in the NHL. Similar calls have been made for the same to happen to Jim Benning in Vancouver, whose roster has a record virtually identical to the one Bergevin cobbled together.
Tale of the Tape
|49.3% (17th)||Scoring-chances-for %||48.1% (23rd)|
|2.35 (28th)||Goals per game||2.27 (29th)|
|3.61 (31st)||Goals against per game||3.27 (27th)|
|12.9% (29th)||PP%||16.0% (23rd)|
|68.6% (29th)||PK%||62.3% (32nd)|
Looking at the stats above, there isn’t much to suggest that these teams shouldn’t be located right where they are, not competitive in a single category. Both give up at least one goal more per game, on average, than they score, and that just doesn’t work. Special teams have been unable to save either club, though one team has to win out somehow in those situations tonight.
Last year, the Canadiens came out on top in nearly every type of battle there was with the Canucks, taking at least one point in all nine games they played. The combined score of that North Division season series was 41-26, with Montreal average a full goal more than the other Canadian teams, which also beat up on their West Coast compatriot.
The star of those games was unquestionably Tyler Toffoli, who had eight goals versus the team he’d played for the previous year. Last year’s leader in goals, with 28, hasn’t found that same level this year, currently on pace for 18, but he has quietly moved into the team scoring lead with a relatively unimpressive 15 points — a fifth of which came on three empty-net-goals in the last game. That should be all you need to know about the state of Montreal’s offence.
Vancouver managing to score even less often than Montreal is truly a feat. Considering their roster has the likes of Nils Hoglander, Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, and J.T. Miller, they should be able to find more offence. Their underlying stats suggest that they should have better numbers, with those players all around a 60% expected-goals-for percentage in the season’s opening quarter, but their on-ice shooting percentage is a very average 8.0% or so. They can be expected to have better luck if they can maintain the same level of play.
The players Benning has filling out the bottom half of Vancouver’s lineup aren’t close to the same level as those at the top, and can be exploited with proper matchups. We’ll see if the changes at the top level of the Canadiens organization will provide the boost needed to play a quality game and take advantage of the Canucks’ lack of depth.