Canadiens vs. Blackhawks 5 Takeaways: Another unlucky loss

This loss to the Blackhawks isn’t reason enough to panic.

1. Great in the offensive zone, questionable the defensive zone.

Montreal’s defence remains a work in progress. Much like in the first three games, the Canadiens blue line continues to struggle to find its feet. Maybe it is the residual rust from summer. Maybe it is the after effects of the roster turnover. But whatever it is, there seems to be a disconnect between the different defensive pairs.

Whether it was the unnecessary giveaway from Jordie Benn with Hawks on a delayed offside, or the terrible pinch by Shea Weber to gift Chicago a 3-on-1 against his rookie partner - the Canadiens defence couldn’t quite find its bearings.

This may have prompted Coach Julien to tinker with his pairings as the game wore on. Benn took Karl Alzner’s spot next to Jeff Petry, while Alzner spent time on the third pairing alongside Brandon Davidson.

Speaking of Alzner, though his performance did warrant a demotion - given his cap hit, it is slightly concerning to see him spend time on Montreal’s bottom pairing. With just north of $4.6 million invested in him this season, the team can’t afford to have him there on a consistent basis moving forward.

2. Ongoing power play woes.

Montreal continued to struggle on the power play. The team went 0-for-5 on the night and have squandered 14 opportunities on the man advantage through their first four games.

More importantly, the Canadiens are not only struggling to put the puck in the back of the net, but to put shots on the net as a whole. The team only managed to generate a grand total of 11 shots over five power plays during the game. And with the exception of Jonathan Drouin and Shea Weber (who put up two shots each on the power play), no other player generated multiple shots on the man advantage.

However, there were some encouraging changes to the power play set-up as the game wore on. In particular, Alex Galchenyuk was finally used not as a net front presence but along the half wall, where he could put his shot to good use. Hopefully, this will not be a one-off tweak.

3. Carey Price has not looked like Carey Price.

After signing a massive contract extension with the Montreal Canadiens over the summer, expectations regarding Carey Price’s performance have only sky rocketed - not that they were low to begin with.

But four games in, Canadiens star goaltender has looked like anything but a star.

Sloppy plays from Montreal’s blue liners aside, Price’s poor stats don’t bode well for the team. With a 3.30 GAA and an .899 SV%, Price has been remarkably pedestrian.  This is worrying, seeing as the team in front of him is no longer bleeding scoring chances against at an alarming rate and especially concerning given the dry spell at the other end.

4. Hold on to second round picks.

The Canadiens may have inadvertently brought this loss upon themselves. When trading to acquire Andrew Shaw, Montreal sent two second round picks  - the 39th and the 45th overall picks - to Chicago in return. The Hawks would go on to use the 39th overall pick to draft a high scoring young forward from the OHL in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.

And that 19 year-old has begun his rookie season in style this year.

Alex DeBrincat currently has three points in four games, two of which came last night against the Canadiens. DeBrincat had a strong showing during his Bell Centre debut, scoring a goal and notching an assist as his Hawks went on to take the game by a score of 3-1.

While there is no guarantee that the Canadiens would have selected him had the team held onto the pick, there is no doubt that a player with DeBrincat’s offensive abilities would really be welcome on the team right now.

5. But at the risk of sounding like a broken record...

Once again, the Montreal Canadiens found themselves out-shooting and out-chancing, but not quite out-scoring their opponent. Despite a sluggish performance in the second frame, Montreal dominated Chicago in terms of shot attempts throughout the entire game.

The Canadiens are still playing better than what their win-loss record would indicate. If not for an impressive showing from Corey Crawford (who turned away 41 of the 42 shots that he faced) the Hawks could very well have found themselves down two points instead.

And it’s not like the Canadiens have just been shooting from everywhere. The are first in the NHL at 5v5 high danger scoring chances (41) and second in overall 5v5 scoring chances (94) but have not scored on any of them.

In fact, even though it may not seem this way, the Canadiens problems can all be traced back to facing extremely hot goaltenders and unfortunate puck luck (the team currently is sporting a ridiculously low 1.79 5v5 SH%). Montreal’s recent dry spell isn’t sustainable - the team won’t have the league’s worst shooting percentage and the league’s worst PDO (shooting percentage plus save percentage) forever - but it is understandably frustrating to watch.

But this doesn’t mean that there are fundamental problems with the team that need to be addressed. Rather, the team and the coaching staff will be better served tweaking the current system instead of wholesale changes and trusting the process because favourable results will eventually follow.

Besides, it isn’t often that a team that manages to do this ends up on the losing side.

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