MONTREAL, QC. — The Canadiens have played more than the quarter of their season already. Even if they are only five points away from a playoff spot, there are no indications that this team will turn around at this point. We can’t really take a lot from the Habs win over the Sabres as they are one of the worst team in the NHL.
There’s so many parts of the team that are not going well. To be honest, it’s very difficult to believe that this nightmare will stop anytime soon. After 24 games, the Canadiens are 30th in goals for, 28th in goals against, 29th on the power-play, 27th on the penalty-kill and 23rd at the faceoff circle.
It would have been easy to put all the blame on the poor save percentage of goaltenders Carey Price (.877) and Al Montoya (.863), but this team is struggling in so many aspects. Even Charlie Lindgren’s save percentage of .924 couldn’t offset all of the problems.
In six of the last nine games, the Canadiens scored only two goals or less and have been blanked twice. The goaltending is clearly not the problem with this team. They can’t score, and the defensive coverage is horrendous.
Starting at the blue line, the problem is not necessarily losing Alexei Emelin, Nathan Beaulieu and Andrei Markov, but not having replaced them with quality defenseman. I couldn’t really disagree with the departures of Emelin and Beaulieu. I grew weary of all of the errors they made in their own zone.
But their replacements are not playing in the right spots in the lineup. Karl Alzner is a very well-paid, third-pairing defenseman playing on the second pair. Plus, Brandon Davidson and Joe Morrow are seventh defensemen on any good NHL defensive squad.
Management cannot change the mistakes that were made last summer. But what can be done now?
First, David Schlemko has been recalled by the Canadiens after a two-game conditioning stint with the Laval Rocket. For me, that means that either Morrow or Davidson will head to the press box.
You should not have too many expectations of Schlemko though, as he is only a bit better than the other two having a career SATSE FAR of 47.7 percent and a SATSE AAR of 50.4 percent. On a team that isn’t going anywhere, it’s reasonable to believe that Schlemko is not going to be a game-changer.
The other recent addition to the lineup was the call up Jakub Jerabek from Laval. I had high expectations about this free agent signing this summer. But it is not an easy and quick adjustment moving from the European to the North American sized rink.
Nevertheless, in the 17 games that Jerabek played with the Rockets, he collected a goal and ten assists. After two games since his recall, Jerabek has played well enough to show that he is a NHL player. Claude Julien was already impressed by his play after watching him play in Laval.
“He’s very smart, makes good decisions, and we’re going to keep a very close eye on him.” – Claude Julien
Jerabek has special clause in his contract, that if he was not on the NHL roster by December 15th, he could return to the KHL without penalty.
The additions of Schlemko and Jerabek could serve to balance the defense somewhat. However, the coaching staff must still work on the Habs defensive coverage has they tend to allow too many shots from the dangerous areas in front of the net.
On the offensive front, Montreal should make multiple change, starting with a line realignment. I know that the Canadiens would like Jonathan Drouin to be their number one centre, but it isn’t working well so far. For one, Drouin has an efficiency at the faceoff circle of only 39.6 percent.
So instead of trying the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome, it’s time to replace Drouin with Plekanec when a faceoff has to be taken. Then let Drouin take the ice when the Canadiens have possession of the puck. In this scenario Drouin’s ice-time would be cut considerably, which is not desirable.
It’s like saying, ‘We need you to play centre but we know that you can’t win a faceoff.’ Another option would be to hire a faceoff coach for Drouin but that wouldn’t help with his defensive reads. So how about putting him on the wing?
In my opinion, they should use what they have on hand. At this point the best centre in Montreal is Phillip Danault. Max Pacioretty and Danault have a great chemistry together. These two players had very good moments last season when playing with a tremendous playmaker, Alexander Radulov.
Perhaps placing Drouin on the right wing with Danault and Pacioretty, could result in some chemistry. It’s certainly with trying this arrangement. Drouin is an amazing playmaker, but he seems better when he has much less responsibility and is able to focus on creating scoring chances.
One thing is certain: Montreal must keep the duo of Charles Hudon and Brendan Gallagher together as they seem to have developed chemistry. And Thomas Plekanec is the best option as a centre for them.
I wouldn’t be opposed to a line of Alex Galchenyuk, Charles Hudon and Brendan Gallagher. Hudon has played centre in the AHL although he was less effective there than on the wing.
Reuniting Galchenyuk with Gallagher could be the last solution to re-ignite Alex’s offensive production.
Finally, if Galchenyuk can’t find a spot in the Canadiens top six, he could be aligned with Paul Byron and Andrew Shaw. The fourth line should include Michael McCarron and anyone else who is healthy and is performing well.
There are not many solutions available with the players inside the room. Canadiens management can use their imagination to both find a solution for increased offensive production and to tighten their defense. Until they do, chances lessen that they can make the playoffs this season.