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Penalty-killing woes continue to doom the Canadiens’ goalies

It’s not just poor goaltending. The system on the penalty kill just doesn’t work.

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest problems facing the Montreal Canadiens this year has been sub-standard goaltending overall, and a major factor in that has been the disaster that is the penalty kill. Ranking last in the NHL at a laughable 73.8%, it’s been the deciding factor in far too many games for the Habs this year.

Against the Pittsburgh Penguins it reared its ugly head once again, with two third-period power-play goals being a key difference in a game that was closely contested up until that point.

If we look at where these goals are being scored from, it’s no wonder the Montreal goaltending contingent looks less than great this year. Opposing players are standing right on the doorstep more often than not.

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In the graphic above, the darker the purple, the more shots a team is facing in that area, and directly in front of the Canadiens net is the hottest spot for opposing teams. It’s such a common occurrence in games that broadcasters seeing the alignment for the first time in weeks have noted that the high tip in the slot is available as an option, or that there is consistently an open player behind the Habs’ defenders.

This is Patric Hornqvist’s goal, and somehow he is left entirely alone behind the defence, having an eternity to corral the puck and score on Antti Niemi.

This is not a new thing. It’s been happening almost since the start of the year, and it’s a major reason why Carey Price, among others, have struggled for the Habs this year. It’s one thing to be standing on your head, it’s another to have to be nearly flawless in all situations and outperform a system that isn’t working.

It’s been said a few times that the Canadiens are going to look into changing things that aren’t working. First and foremost should be the assistant coaches in charge of the special teams units (the penalty kill in the AHL is no better).

Penalties are designed to put a team at a disadvantage, but not to the level that it’s almost a surefire bet there’ll be a goal in the game when the four-man unit is on the ice. There are plenty of capable penalty-killing options on the Montreal roster, but it’s become entirely apparent it’s not the players, but the system they’re in that’s hurting them the most.

Price will be better next year, and Shea Weber will be healthy, but that isn’t going to matter much if the penalty kill system still allows opposing players behind them with an open shot on net every single time.