Saturday, April 9, 2011

Special Team Woes?

As we head into our final regular season game of the year, I want to start off by saying how much I have thoroughly enjoyed the Montreal Canadiens 2010-2011 season, missing only 2 of 82 games played. I’ve watched or listened to just about every game, I’ve read thousands of blog posts and articles, I’ve written opinions and analyses on games, and I started attending practices in Brossard. Basically, I'm the quintessential Habs fan.

A lot of critical Habs fans always manage to find cause for concern. Of course, the easiest thing to pick apart is the efficiency of the special teams. While I can agree with my fellow Habs fans that up until the last few games, P.K. Subban wasn’t getting the minutes I would have like to have seen with the man advantage, our power play isn’t THAT terrible. Stats can’t lie, and our power play is currently 8th in the league with 55 power play goals in 287 power play opportunities, for a 19.2% efficiency rate.

While aiming for mediocrity is no way to play a team sport, it’s important to realize that the Habs power play is not ALL that bad, comparatively speaking. Habs fans accept nothing but the best from their beloved Canadiens, and that’s okay, but I think it would do Habs fans some good to watch other teams in the NHL play as well. I think they would realize that you can't score on EVERY power play, and that our boys do a pretty decent job of trying to do so.

What alarms me is that the Canadiens have only 212 goals for, the worst of any team in the playoffs. Their 55 power play goals mean that 25.96% of their goals came on the power play. That being said, the main cause for concern shouldn't be restricted to power play goals, but goal scoring in general. You can't win games if you don't score, no matter how extraordinary your goal tender is. The Habs need to capitalize on all scoring chances, and yes, their power play opportunities, if they want to be a force to be reckoned with this post season.

The other end of the special teams’ spectrum is the penalty kill. The Habs currently sit 7th in the NHL with 84.2% efficiency. The fact that the Habs Habs are 2nd overall in minor penalties with 358, behind only Pittsburgh with 369 has caused many to speculate that there is some sort of conspiracy to screw over the Habs. I don’t quite buy into that, simply because the Habs are such a small team. In order to compete with larger, tougher teams, the Habs need to hook, grab, etc. If they didn’t, they would get scored on. What would you rather be complaining about?

In light of the "referee conspiracy", everyone complains that for Montreal to draw a penalty, the opposing team has to commit a blatant crime on the ice. However, the Habs are 15th overall in power play opportunities. While it's not spectacular, there are several teams below that have had far fewer opportunities, teams that were able to secure playoff spots no less.

I think it’s important to evaluate one last aspect of the game, and that’s shorthanded goals. Montreal is 27th in the league with only 4 short handed goals. As the playoff picture shapes up, take note that our potential opponents Philadelphia, Pittsburgh & Boston are 2nd, 3rd and 4th respectively in short handed goals, with 13, 13 and 11. When the Habs are on the power play, they can’t allow the opportunities that our opponents will surely capitalize on.

All that being said, it’s time to get excited! Stop whining, and enjoy the ride!

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