The Montreal Canadiens have been a .500 team for over a month now, and, although it may be an improvement over last season, the club has been much worse than their record entails.
The Canadiens are currently sporting a 12-13-1 record, good for 21st in the NHL standings and 22nd in terms of points percentage.
The most glaring difference between the Canadiens and the clubs around them has to be the significant goal differential the team faces. Through 28 games, the young Canadiens have a -21 goal differential through 28 games so far this season, which is the fourth-worst in the league.
It lines up with where current NHL odds see the Habs finishing this year, as the otherworldly goaltending performances of Samuel Montembeault and the improving Cayden Primeau will not be able to save the club from eventually sliding down the standings.
But, this is a rebuilding club, so patience is to be expected for such a young group. Nonetheless, there remains a few glaring issues the Canadiens need to address in quick fashion to convince the fan base that things are heading in the right direction.
Young Canadiens’ Offensive Development
If the focus of the season was to further develop the offensive ability of the club’s young stars like Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield and Juraj Slafkovsky, then the first quarter of the season has failed in that regard.
As of this moment, Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield are on pace for 64 and 56 points respectively, which is roughly the same point pace as last year.
The major difference, however, has been in the goal-scoring department, as Suzuki and Caufield are on pace for 22 and 20 goals respectively on the season.
It’s even more concerning when you look at Caufield’s production, as four of his seven goals have come through overtime winners, rather than the elite, even-strength scoring he showed last season.
Juraj Slafkovsky, who has looked much better as of late, using his size and reach to his advantage, still hasn’t taken that next step offensively either, posting just seven points in 29 games. Although he’s creating players with more ease, getting shots off and developing the killer instinct the Canadiens fell in love with in 2022 has been a trying task for head coach Martin St-Louis.
The coaching staff has outlined several times that they are trying to impose accountability on their young core, but, if it comes at the expense of their offensive growth, the Canadiens will be taking one step forward and two steps back.
Defence Bailing Out Forwards
The Montreal Canadiens are one of the top teams for goal-scoring in one category however, and that is goal-production from the back end with 22 goals through 29 games.
Mike Matheson and Justin Barron lead the Canadiens with five goals each on the season, while Johnathan Kovacevic has four on the season and Gustav Lindstrom has three.
In total, the Canadiens blueline accounts for 23 of the club’s 79 goals this season, a whopping 29% of the team’s total offence; the highest ratio in the NHL. Yes, the injuries to Alex Newhook and Kirby Dach certainly don’t help, but that shouldn’t be the excuse to lean on when trying to build a sustainable contender.
Just as an example, the Colorado Avalanche, who also have 24 goals from their blueline, only have 22% of their offence coming from their blueline. Similarly to Montreal, they’re also missing some important players in Gabriel Landeskog and Arturri Lehkonen, but the results are still there.
It’s not to say that the Canadiens should be on the same level as he former Stanley Cup champs, but it goes to show how important top-end talent and quality depth is for overcoming adversity.
The lack of quality depth coming from the rest of the forward corps, outside of Jesse Ylönen and Sean Monahan, has been subpar to say the least and has cost the Canadiens games.
But, above all, it teams have caught on and are prioritizing their defensive efforts against the Canadiens top-line in consequence, further stacking the deck against Caufield and Suzuki.
Getting The Job Done
The Montreal Canadiens are also too overly dependent on their goaltending needing to steal games in order to win.
In the Canadiens’ five regulation wins, the club has edged out their opponents by a goal or an empty-net marker to seal the deal. During those games, Samuel Montembeault, Cayden Primeau or Jake Allen stood on their heads.
The Canadiens’ have a bottom-five offensive and defensive unit according to their goal differentials and advanced stats, while still being 21st overall in the standings; and that’s due to their top-5 goaltending performances.
You may notice it strictly by looking at their save percentage, but the Canadiens goaltending trio combine for the 7th-best goals-saved-above-expected ratio in the NHL; with Montembeault being at the top of the NHL at even strength.
If the club ever wants to shed the identity they’ve carried for nearly 30 years, that being a mediocre roster powered by top-end goaltending and offensive blueliners, then they have some work to do, both on and off the ice.
The good news is, there’s still lots of time for progression.
*For more NHL betting lines and futures, head over to FanDuel