Warning: This edition of ALN may contain observations that will annoy diehard lovers of the bleau-blanc-rouge.
Fan discretion is advised.
First the part y’all will like: Playing their second game in two nights, third in four nights and fourth in six nights – with a lineup missing an entire forward line and a Top 4 defenceman – your Montreal Canadiens came up with a gritty team effort to beat the Dallas Stars.
For the second game in a row, Canadiens skaters stopped more pucks than their goaltender.
In New York on Monday night, Peter Budaj posted a 27-save shutout while his teammates blocked 28 shots.
Back at the Bell Centre Tuesday, Carey Price faced 24 shots, one of which eluded him. No fewer than 16 Canadiens combined to block 29 Dallas shots.
The only skaters who didn’t block a shot were Tomas Plekanec, who does about 15 other subtle things to help the Canadiens win, and Alex Galchenyuk, who is learning how to play in his own zone.
Budaj and Price were justifiably selected the First Stars of the two wins, but the goaltenders are getting a lot of help.
There is cause for some concern, however, in the number of shot attempts the Canadiens are allowing. The Rangers had 27 SoG, 29 were blocked and nine missed the net. Comparable stat for the Canadiens was 24-11-15. The disparity in totals, 65 for the Rangers, 50 for the Canadiens suggests possession favoured the woeful Blueshirts.
Similar story on Tuesday: The Stars had 27 SoG, 29 were blocked and there were 8 misses. Canadiens had 24 shots, Dallas blocked 11 and 15 missed the net. So it was 64-50.
But those aren’t the stats that concern me. These are the numbers I’ll cite at the risk of POing some fans enjoying the win:
00:01: Total time a Norris Trophy-winning defenceman spent killing penalties in a tight game.
2:48: Time left in a one-goal game when the Norris Trophy-winning defenceman played his last shift.
79, 26, 61, 6: Jersey numbers of Canadiens defencemen who played while Kari Lehtonen was on the Dallas bench and the Stars pressed for a late equalizer.
What the heck is going on with P.K. Subban?
Maritime Ronn, one of the more astute members of the Hockey Inside/Out Commentariat, posed the question even before the Dallas game:
…Has anyone noticed that Subban is playing somewhat tentative (afraid-scared) lately?
If so, is it the multiple and sometimes questionable penalty calls against him? Is that getting in his head? Is there more, such as what may be going on with him and coaching (Trust?)…or is he hiding an injury or illness?
Example: Time on Ice. In two of the last three games, the reigning Norris Trophy winner has played only 21:37 and 22:38.
Subban is a horse and can/should easily play 25 minutes. He is also fine in 5X5 situations as his +5 is 2nd best for Habs Dmen.
Monday night in Subban’s 21:37 of ice time, he did not play 1 second of total 8 minutes and 19 seconds that the Habs were shorthanded.
Some may say our penalty kill is just fine, yet a point of caution. The Habs have only played against 3 of the Top 18 NHL power play teams so far. Against those 3 teams, the PK is at 76.5% – well below the season 84%.
Over and above that, Subban was on the ice for only 4 shifts in the last 14 minutes of the 3rd period – and was on the bench for the last 2:20 of the game. While there may be multiple reasons and factors for this such as increased opposition scrutiny, Subban’s shots on goal have also noticeably decreased lately. In his first 7 games, PK had 26 shots. In his last 5 games, PK has 8 shots.
Again, Maritime Ronn raised these issues before the Canadiens played Dallas.
And as I noted above, P.K. was on the bench for almost the last three minutes of a tight game. He wasn’t used on the PK. And he had two shots on goal.
Far be it from me to knock Michel Therrien. The kindly old coach has the Canadiens playing solid, disciplined team hockey – as evidenced by winning tight games and sacrificing bodies to block shots.
Therrien and his staff have recognized the NHL-calibre talent of Michaël Bournival (you’d have to be crazy not to) and rewarded the kid with generous ice time on a line with two veterans.
The coach has been more than patient – to the dismay of many – with David Desharnais, who hasn’t scored a goal in 30 games, stretching back to last season. And DD may finally be coming out of his funk on a line with Rene Bourque and late-blooming Louis Leblanc.
After being forced to dress Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu, both of whom need more AHL seasoning, Therrien has wisely employed Douglas Murray, a veteran who plays within himself and lays on the bone-jarring hits (six in 12 minutes ToI against Dallas) we haven’t seen since Alexei Emelin went down.
Missing Emelin, Max Pacioretty, Brandon Prust, Daniel Brière and Travis Moen, the Canadiens are third in the Atlantic Division with a goal differential of plus-14.
Your Montreal Canadiens are playing good hockey.
And with apologies to the team’s chief amateur scout for taking his name in vain, perhaps it is churlish to suggest there may be an issue with the 24-year-old star who won an NHL honour no Canadien had garnered since Chris Chelios in 1989.
Some of us remember how that movie ended.