For the second straight game, Montreal Canadiens head coach Claude Julien lamented the mistakes his team made that cost them goals against. Sure there were a large number of breakaways against Jake Allen against the Ottawa Senators. Sure the Canadiens could have been cleaner in overtime.
Focusing on limiting mistakes, however, has an adverse effect. Nick Suzuki talked after the game about what has changed from the beginning of the year.
“I think we’re all up in our own heads right now,” Suzuki said. “We’re overthinking and playing not to lose and that’s never a good thing to do. To start the season, we were energized and everyone was having fun. That’s gotten away from us.”
The Canadiens used to be dynamic with the puck. They used to create chances, even if some of them weren’t going in. Now, it’s not that the chances aren’t going in, it’s that the chances aren’t even being created.
On Sunday night, the Canadiens generated two high danger scoring chances (this is defined by shots from within the “home plate” area in the slot between the two faceoff circles and narrowing towards the crease). Not two at five-on-five, not two at even strength. Just two. Including power plays.
It was the lowest total of the season for the Canadiens this season. Previously, they haven’t had fewer than six — also against the Senators. People may notice the Senators playing a defensive-minded game against the Canadiens, but only three NHL teams have allowed more high danger scoring chances per game than Ottawa.
If one of the worst defensive teams in the league can adapt to shut down your offence, the onus goes to you adapting to beat them and that hasn’t happened.
It should be noted that one of the two high danger scoring chances the Canadiens had in the game just happened to go in the net. That’s right, Corey Perry’s goal where he moved to the front of the net to beat Matt Murray. The other one, by the way, was by Joel Armia.
Julien seems more concerned about not allowing goals than he does about scoring them. Both have the same goal — to win the game — but different consequences.
“It’s a matter of simplifying your game and playing with confidence and making things happen,” Julien said after Sunday’s game. “Some of the breakaways we gave, we made decisions that were high risk and it ends up costing us. We need to settle down and play a more stable kind of game.”
He’s not wrong. There were some bad decisions that if not for the heroics of Jake Allen would have been goals against. That needs to be ironed out. But when your top offensive centre, who just happened to score the game’s opening goal, says that he’s in his own head and playing not to lose, The thing you shouldn’t be preaching is settling down.
When Suzuki says the team played more energized to start the year and has gotten away from that, you shouldn’t be preaching a more stable kind of game.
The problem when you push out high risk plays, is that you also push out high reward offensive plays. The Canadiens offensive strategy was simply to try and score goals like the Senators did on Sunday — shoot and hope for a bounce — than it was to try and score goals like they did for the first 16 games of the season.
There is something to be said about getting traffic in front on those point shots, but it’s something else to not try to get to the dangerous areas with the puck. Corey Perry said on Sunday that the team needed to stop the “one and done’s” which is basically one shot where the other team gets control of the rebound and clears the zone.
Playing to win 2-1 just doesn’t work. The reason why is the kinds of goals the Senators scored. Even the best goaltending effort is a few bad bounces from being a loss. Look at the chart above. Look where the Senators goals came from. You also put the odds of a good bounce in your favour when you get closer to the net.
The mistakes have to be limited, sure, but you win a lot more games when you try to outscore the opponent rather than trying to out-defend them.
Montreal will need to get creative offensively, and that will help them win more games than limiting mistakes in transition.