In the span of nineteen games the Canadiens had gone from number one in the NHL to number ten. Through the first half of the season Canadiens penalty killers gave up a total of twenty-one goals (87.9%). The next nineteen games they doubled the total; 21 goals against in 78 times-short, easily the worst in the NHL at 70 percent.
It sounds like a recipe for disaster but through the slump the Canadiens had an 8-7-4 record thanks to a power play that produced fifteen goals. Still, special teams were minus-7. It could have been worse, and allowed to continue it almost certainly would have been.
You don’t have to look far for the reasons. No Josh Gorges. No Jaroslav Spacek.
I think we can safely assume that Canadiens GM Pierre Gauthier was aware of the problem and it’s causes. All you need do is examine his trade deadline deals; Paul Mara from the Anaheim Ducks and Brent Sopel from the Atlanta Thrashers.
In last night’s win over the Thrashers the Canadiens were perfect in five shorthanded situations. Sopel and Mara made up the second defensive pairing in every penalty kill behind P.K. Subban and Hal Gill. Each unit logged just over 4 minutes together. It was the second perfect night in a row for the penalty killers. Against Carolina Sopel was paired with Yannick Weber in his first game with the Canadiens. Completely absent from the mix is the third defense pairing of Hamrlik and Wisniewski. Wisniewski is understandable because of his defensive deficiencies. The Hamrlik situation is more subtle. He has played almost 1700 shifts and well over 1300 minutes this season at the age of 36. The pressure has been on him because of all of those injuries. Jacques Martin could be easing his workload leading up to the playoffs. Last night in Atlanta was a veritable Hamrlik holiday at 17:30.
Martin harps on the theory that special teams are the difference-maker in today’s NHL. The last two games, special teams were plus-2. Two power play goals for to none against. spelling the difference in what were basically two one-goal hockey games.