The bedeviled Canadiens penalty kill
The biggest issue coming out of the Habs’ loss to the Devils is the continued awfulness of the special teams.
Overall, the Montreal Canadiens were not a good side on Tuesday night. Good teams don’t get blown out of the building with less than three minutes on the clock in the first period. The biggest issue, as it’s been all year, is Montreal’s penalty-killing units being unable to efficiently do their job on a consistent basis.
Clocking in at 77.4% before the game, and now 76.5% after it, the Canadiens penalty kill is among the worst in the league, and it’s done their goaltenders no favours in closely contested games. Against the Devils, it sunk the team before they ever had a chance to find their legs, and it’s an issue that has to be addressed in the off-season. Yes, the team is missing some of their key pieces, but even with them in the lineup the penalty kill was struggling to keep opponents off the board.
The TSN broadcast pointed out several times that games that are lopsided in score re the perfect time to try out new things or give expanded roles to young players. It’s been obvious for a while that the penalty kill needs a major overhaul. In a game like this, why not try to tweak things, or just try out different personnel?
Noah Juulsen getting expanded minutes is a good thing. He’s clearly doing the right things to impress Claude Julien, and that’s good; it’s exactly what the Canadiens should be trying to do. But instead of Nicolas Deslauriers, is it not worth trying out a more offensively inclined forward like Brendan Gallagher on the penalty kill now? In Laval, they experimented with something similar and it led to Daniel Audette scoring a pair of short-handed goals, while assisting on others. It cannot hurt to try at this point.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a big deal that the team lost in Newark on Tuesday. In fact, for the inevitable rebuild that’s coming, this loss is helpful. It’s just become a frustrating trend with this Montreal team this year that they look like they’re turning a corner in terms of play, and crash back to Earth. They don’t just crash though, they go full nuclear and explode in impressive fashion.
They had points in seven straight games before this one, and hadn’t lost in regulation for over two weeks. Not bad for a team that’s been missing major players. Then tonight they looked like a team that had never skated together before, and when it counted, their special teams units were nowhere to be found.
Again, it’s not that the losses are bad, it’s the frustrating way in which games like this occur and nothing is done to fix them before the next crash.
But those have been the themes in Montreal this year: frustration and a lack of clear direction in fixing issues. Hopefully that’ll change soon, or the team is going to continue it’s descent into mediocrity and unfulfilled expectations.