For the Montreal Canadiens, after the good comes the bad and the ugly
Inconsistency isn’t a bug of the 2022-23 Canadiens, it’s a feature.
The Montreal Canadiens were coming off of two of their best team games in recent memory — a win on the road against the New York Rangers, followed by a win at home against the Winnipeg Jets.
The 2022-23 Canadiens aren’t very good, so rightfully the other shoe dropped on Thursday in a 6-2 loss to the Florida Panthers.
Like the great philosophers The Rembrandts said in the extended version of the theme song from Friends, “your mama warned you there’d be days like these.” This is a bad team. Games like Thursday will be more common than games against the Rangers and Jets. However, there still is talent on this team, so inconsistency is a good thing. If they were consistent, they’d be consistently bad so it’s refreshing when they pull out a good performance (unless you’re one of those people obsessed with draft lottery odds).
You can talk about the officiating, and yes, it was not good. However, even when power plays are given to the other team, that shouldn’t mean an automatic goal. Of course, against this Canadiens penalty kill it often does and THAT is the problem. Allowing a team to score on 4/8 power plays is a problem. Special teams has been a problem for the entire season for the Canadiens. Some will say it’s personnel, I don’t think the answer is that simple.
There’s enough talent on the Canadiens to get through a penalty kill or to score on the power play. Despite this, the Canadiens failed on 9/13 special teams opportunities on the night. That’s typical. The Canadiens power play hits on 15.4% of opportunites. Only the dreadful Columbus Blue Jackets are worse in the entire NHL. This despite having one of the best shooters in the league in Cole Caufield. Nineteen of Caufield’s 26 goals are at even strength. Surely he could have had two more power play goals on Thursday if not for miraculous saves from Alex Lyon, but if you can’t figure out an effective power play scheme with Caufield on your side, you’re doing it wrong. The penalty kill is at 73.7%. Somehow, there are actually five NHL teams worse than that, which places the Canadiens in 27th place.
Special teams are an equalizer for a bad team. You may not be the best at even strength hockey, but you should be able to take care of your special teams. The Canadiens have not been able to do that, and honestly no matter what Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes does with the roster, if they don’t figure that out, they won’t be able to take the next step.
The urgency isn’t there right now for the coaching staff. It’s more important for them to develop the young players and establish a culture than to scheme and create tactics to get them to the top. Like Hughes said in his press conference on Wednesday as the rebuild continues, the demands on the coaching staff will change.
In the off-season, if not during the all-star break and the bye week, it should be a priority to try something different. That’s what the rest of this season should be for.
Either way, prepare for more games like the one against the Panthers. That’s just the reality of the team right now. Which is fine for now. It’s just the start of the second year of the rebuild.
It will eventually change. At least, for those in charge, it better.