The Montreal Canadiens lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night. It was exhibition, but familiar flaws found them in trouble.
The Montreal Canadiens 2019-20 regular season had its ups and downs. They started the schedule well, and were among the top teams in the Eastern Conference in the middle of November. Then came a pair of eight game losing streaks, sandwiched around another pretty solid stretch.
By the end of February, the Canadiens found themselves far from the playoff picture and elected to sell off some assets. They traded away almost all of their pending free agents, and added draft picks that could help them in the future.
It was a few flaws in the lineup that saw the Habs fall down the standings. They did have some things fo right, but they could overcome a few fatal flaws that continued to find their way into the Habs game.
The Canadiens power play turned into a time when the Habs would lose any momentum and almost assuredly not create scoring chances. Having a man advantage is supposed to make it easier to create chances and score goals, but the Habs were not able to do that.
The Habs power play ranked 22nd in the league with a conversion rate of 17.7%. They were atrocious at the Bell Centre, having the league’s worst home power play with a 12.4% rating. That means they scored on every eighth man advantage at home all season.
Last night, that power play was still awful. They had six chances to score while the Maple Leafs had less players on the ice, but they failed to come close to converting on any of them. To make matters even worse, Alex Kerfoot and Morgan Rielly scored for Toronto while the Canadiens were on the power play.
Essentially, Montreal went -2 for 6 on the power play in their first game back.
The Canadiens also gave up far too many dangerous scoring chances in the regular season. They were accustomed to shooting from everywhere so at the end of a game, the shots on goal and even Corsi may look flattering, but actual chances were usually stacked against the Habs.
Last night was no different. While the shot clock remained pretty close through two, and the Habs jumped ahead in the third and outshot the Leafs 30-23, it was Carey Price who faced far more difficult shots than Frederik Andersen.
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The Canadiens also leaned really heavily on three veteran defencemen all year long. Shea Weber, Jeff Petry and Ben Chiarot were all in the top 30 in ice time during the regular season. The law of averages would tell you the Habs should have one player in the top 30, not three.
Even last night, in an exhibition game, Weber played close to 25 minutes while the bottom guys barely got a regular shift. The Habs did dress seven defenders so it skews things a bit, but Cale Fleury only played 7:53 while Victor Mete was on the ice for just over ten minutes and Brett Kulak, who was in a top four role, played just 13:27.
The Canadiens need to balance that ice time out a bit better if they are going to win a series against a deep and talented team like the Pittsburgh Penguins. You just can’t ask three defencemen to shut down Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
The Canadiens also seemed to allow a disproportionate number of goals in the first and last minute of periods. Sure enough, just 33 seconds into the game, Ilya Mikheyev put the Maple Leafs ahead. Kerfoot tipped in his second goal of the night with just 25 seconds to play in the second period.
These familiar flaws haunted the Habs all year long. A putrid power play, allowing far too many dangerous chances, relying too heavily on a trio of aging defencemen and constantly allowing goals at the start and end of periods, were the biggest reasons the Habs ranked 24th in the league standings.
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They clearly were not able to find a cure for what ailed them during their 20 weeks off. They are going to have to somehow find a way to fix these problems in the next few days. Otherwise, it will be a short series against the Penguins next week.