On the night of December 10th the Los Angeles Kings brought the Canadiens and their confidence level back to earth with a resounding 6-0 thud and they haven’t been the same since.
Including the thrashing at the hands of the Kings, the Canadiens have established a fan-frustrating pattern of win-one, lose-one in putting together a 8-7-2 record. They have managed to put successive wins together only once in those seventeen games.
You can’t say they haven’t been dramatic. Seven of the seventeen games went into overtime. They won four of then.
They haven’t sunk to the level of the Buffalo Sabres or Edmonton Oilers but in Montreal mediocrity just doesn’t cut it. And mediocre is the only word to describe the state of the Canadiens over the last six weeks.
Team slumps have been a puzzlement for coaches since human beings started playing games. Usually when they happen almost everything falls apart and the current one the Canadiens are enduring is a classic example. Where do you start? Fatigue? The collapse of the power play? Scoring slumps? The psychological beating they took in the Los Angeles loss? All of the above?
I’m beginning to like the fatigue factor. Over the last month the Canadiens have looked tired. Michel Therrien likes a high tempo, physically demanding style of hockey despite the fact that the size of the players he’s asking to commit to that kind of grind is below average. Last season…after playing a dominant role through the first 38 games of the 48 game schedule the Canadiens fell on hard times from which they couldn’t recover losing six of the last ten games and four of five in the playoffs. The Los Angeles game was the 31st on this season’s schedule.
It’s a theory that might explain the deterioration of power play production, the failure to produce offense 5-on-5 and the erratic play in front of Canadiens goaltending.
Here is a performance comparison through the first 31 games and then the last 17.
Dec. 9th Now Last 17 games
Canadiens record 19-9-3 28-16-5 (8-7-2)
Canadiens GAA 2.00 2.33 49GA 3.06GAA
Carey Price 1.95GAA 2.22 GAA 2.79GAA
– .938save% .928save% .914save%
Power play – ranked 6th 22.7% 10th 19.4% 7/55 7.9%
On the offensive side, prolonged slumps by Brendan Gallagher, Brian Gionta, Rene Bourque, Daniel Briere and, before he suffered his broken hand, Alex Galchenyuk, have contributed the problem. Combined those five players have contributed seven goals. The only area of the Canadiens’ game that hasn’t deteriorated is their penalty killing which remains consistently near the top of the league.
Last season, the Canadiens didn’t have time to work their way out of their slump before the playoffs ended. With 34 games left on the schedule, the team has time to find a second wind. That is, if fatigue is in fact the problem and not other factors such as communication between coach and players or the built-in weaknesses in the structure of the roster.