Montreal Canadiens Penalty Kill Need To be Much Better

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 13: Shea Weber Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 13: Shea Weber Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) /

Montreal Canadiens special teams simply have not been good enough in the past few seasons.

Last season, the Habs sheepishly entered the postseason as the 24th ranked team and their work on the power play and penalty kill were a big reason they didn’t rank higher.

The had a power play efficiency of 17.7% which ranked 22nd in the league last season. Their penalty kill percentage was 78.7% which put them 19th among NHL teams. They were better on the PK in 2018-19, killing off 80.9% of their penalties, which ranked 13th in the league, but their 13.3% efficiency on the power play that season was second worst in the entire league.

The year before that, they were 12th in the league on the power play, but 30th in the league while shorthanded. So, in the past three seasons, the Habs ranked 22nd, 30th and 12th in the league with the man advantage and 19th, 13th and 30th on the penalty kill. Those special teams rankings just aren’t good enough and that is the reason the Habs haven’t earned a playoff spot the traditional way since 2017.

If the Canadiens want to earn a postseason berth in 2021, their special teams will have to be a lot better. That’s going to be difficult, especially when you consider the power play unit’s they will be facing this season.

With travel restricted between Canada and the United States, the Canadiens are in a division with the other six Canadian teams and will play all of their games in the Great White North this season.

That means they will be facing some incredible power play units all season.

We already saw the Habs face the Toronto Maple Leafs and they allowed two goals on four penalties. Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, Morgan Rielly and William Nylander give the Leafs some incredible weapons and they do damage with the man advantage.

It won’t be any easier this weekend as the Habs face the Edmonton Oilers for a pair of games. A top PP unit consisting of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Tyson Barrie and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins can find the back of the net in a hurry.

In fact, no team in the league was as good with the man advantage as the Oilers last season who scored on 29.5% of their power plays. The Maple Leafs were 6th at 23.1%. The Vancouver Canucks, who the Habs face next after the Oilers this weekend, were 4th best at 24.2%. The Calgary Flames scored on 21.2% of their power plays which ranked 12th, and the Winnipeg Jets were just behind them in 15th at 20.5%.

The only Canadian teams outside the top half of the league in power play efficiency were the Canadiens themselves and the Ottawa Senators who were dead last.

The Canadiens appear to have the right personnel for killing off penalties. A group of large, physical defencemen who can clear the front of net in Shea Weber, Ben Chiarot, Joel Edmundson, Jeff Petry, Brett Kulak and Alexander Romanov. They also have a deep stable of smart, defensive forwards like Paul Byron, Artturi Lehkonen, Joel Armia and Phillip Danault.

Most importantly, they have Carey Price and Jake Allen in goal.

However, they had most of these players at their disposal a year ago and their penalty kill was 19th best in the league.

Can they find a way to tighten things up on the penalty kill? They do have a deeper crop of options with the additions of Edmundson, Romanov who are more than willing to block a shot to thwart a scoring chance.

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Will it be enough when facing some of the best power plays in the league on a nightly basis? It wasn’t on night one, and will be an important storyline to watch as the season unfolds. The Canadian Division is going to be a tight race for the postseason, if the Habs can even raise their penalty kill to 80% they will give themselves a much better chance of finally qualifying for a 16-team postseason.