There is little left the Canadiens can do on their own at this stage to preserve even a minuscule shot at a playoff berth.
In the long eighty-two game NHL schedule there is practically no chance for a team to hide built in flaws and weaknesses. For some teams they become obvious from the season’s start (witness last season’s Canadiens). In the case of this edition of the Canadiens all of the warts have surfaced in the season’s final twenty games.
For much of the year Montreal was one of the league’s highest even-strength offensive teams. There was always a suspicion that when it came to scoring goals the Canadiens were punching above their weight class and eventually that offense would come back to earth.
And it has, with a resounding thud. At a critical time of the season they have lost five of their last seven games. In four of those losses they had a considerable shots-on goal advantage.. Against Chicago Saturday night the shots on goal were 48-24 in favour of the Canadiens and came away with nothing – no goals and no points in the standings.
In just eight days sportsteamsstats.com has reduced the chances of a Montreal playoff berth from 62% to 42% to 33% and Sunday will have the odds reduced to something in the neighborhood of 5-to-1 against a post season berth. (UPDATE -Now 18.8%)
The reality is, the Canadiens, at a minimum, are left in the position of having to win seven of their remaining ten games in order to even have a chance at a playoff berth. Do you believe in miracles?
In the new NHL analytics, one of the more-often statistics quoted is “high danger scoring chances”. Mostly those are chances in the area directly in front of the goal. In this game the Canadiens had twenty to Chicago’s eleven.
But wait a moment. How many of those chances were clean shots? For most of the night the Canadiens were flailing away in front of the net with the Chicago defense refusing to give away any space or opportunity.
The Canadiens defence has been patchwork at best. Like the offence, their work ethic and skating ability covered a lot of sins. It’s apparent the rest of the league has now pinpointed the weaknesses which include a notable lack of top level talent on the left side.
While the Chicago defence outmanned and outmuscled the Canadiens in the area in front of Corey Crawford it was a totally different story in the other end. Of the Hawks eleven high danger chances, eight were clean looks at Carey Price, especially on their two goals. Particularly bad was their first period where Canadiens defencemen lost battle after battle inside their own blueline, especially along the boards. The game evened out a bit in the second and third periods but puck movement from the defence was often cut down at centre ice. One more example of opponents finding ways to defencing what were, earlier in the season, Canadiens strengths.
HOPING FOR A MIRACLE
Both Columbus and Carolina padded their lead on the Canadiens Saturday night. The Blue Jackets gained a point in an overtime loss at Boston while Carolina beat Buffalo. Carolina has the first wild card berth with 85 points and eleven games remaining. Columbus has 84 points and ten left. The Canadiens are on the outside looking in with 81 points and also ten games left. The Canadiens main hope is those four-point games against both the Blue Jackets and Hurricanes. Making it tougher; both games are on the road.
ALSO WORTH MENTIONING
….Unlike their previous two games, there was nothing wrong with the Canadiens work ethic in the game. The Canadiens had 62.28% of the offense.
….In losing four of their last five games, the Canadiens have outshot opponents 185-137 but have been outscored 18-8.
….Before Claude Julien started shuffling his lines in the second half of the game, the Canadiens fourth line was by far the most effective. In the game Nate Thompson/Artturi Lehkonen/Paul Byron combined for ten shots on goal, eight of them in the first two periods..
….According to naturalstattrick.com Thompson and Andrew Shaw led the Canadiens with four high danger shots; Lehkonen with three; Max Domi and Joel Armia with two each. Most of those chances came in goalmouth scrambles.
….The Canadiens had a chance to get back in the game with a power play early in the third period, their fourth of the game. They weren’t able to produce a shot on goal. Their historically-bad power play now has two goals in it’s last 40 opportunities (5.0%).
….Over the last eighteen years only six teams have finished a season with a PP below 12%. Minnesota was worst at 9.6% in 2000-2001.
….None of Jonathan Drouin‘s four shots on goal were considered statistically dangerous. Drouin has now gone sixteen games without a goal and has points in only one of the sixteen.
….Jesperi Kotkaniemi‘s ice time was limited to 7:53, the first time in his 70 game NHL career he’s had fewer than eleven minutes in a game.
….The Canadiens hit two goalposts in the game; Paul Byron in the first period and Lehkonen in the third.
The Canadiens have Sunday off are scheduled to practice Monday before heading to Philadelphia for the Flyers game Tuesday. A loss in Philadelphia would move the Flyers to within two points of the Canadiens and they would still hold a game in hand. After Philadelphia the Canadiens will host the Islanders and then Buffalo next Thursday and Saturday. The Buffalo game will be followed back-to-back by the game at Carolina Sunday.