Sports By the numbers: Canadiens' identity a riddle wrapped in an enigma
Canadiens Notebook: Jonathan Drouin starting to shoot puck more often
Jonathan Drouin ranks 14th on the Canadiens in shots this season with only 20 in the first 15 games. That partly explains why he only has one goal, but he also has a team-leading 10 assists to rank fifth on the team in points behind Tyler Toffoli (10-5-15), Jeff Petry (6-9-15), Nick Suzuki (3-9-12) and Josh Anderson (9-2-11). Drouin is also plus-5. “I feel happy about my game,” Drouin said after practice Tuesday in Brossard. “I’m around the puck, I’m involved in a lot of play. I just got to keep going towards that. My consistency’s been good this year. There’s a lot of games coming up. I think as a line (with Suzuki and Anderson) we just want to keep doing what we’re doing.
Who are the Montreal Canadiens?
In the wake of the axe falling on head coach Claude Julien and associate coach Kirk Muller on Wednesday, it might be a little while longer before we find a solid answer. With a newly minted interim head coach tag, Dominique Ducharme has an opportunity to resuscitate a season that has gone from a promising 7-1-2 start to a dreadful 2-4-2 slide heading into Saturday’s game against the Jets in Winnipeg (10 p.m., SN, SN360, CBC, TVA Sports, TSN690 Radio, 98.5 FM).
Montreal Canadiens fire Claude Julien and Kirk Muller
The Canadiens announced Wednesday morning that head coach Claude Julien and associate coach Kirk Muller have both been fired. Dominique Ducharme has been named interim head coach, while Alex Burrows, who was an assistant coach with the AHL’s Laval Rocket, has been added to the Canadiens’ coaching staff. After getting off to a 7-1-2 start this season while scoring 44 goals, the Canadiens were looking great and Montreal fans were excited. Bergevin’s off-season player additions had given the team a big boost and for the first time in a long time it didn’t seem like a question of if the Canadiens would make the playoffs, but how far they might go once they get there.
The start of the season for the Canadiens was always a bit of a mirage. No team is going to average 4.4 goals per game for long in a league that averages fewer than three, because there’s too much parity in the NHL. By the same token, the recent stretch in which the Canadiens have averaged just under two goals per game is similarly not fully representative of their play.
Are the Canadiens the juggernaut some observers said they were during their hot start the season? Or are they the awful team we’ve seen in February? The truth is neither, but also somehow both.
Playing 5-vs-5, the Canadiens have been the best team in the NHL — by a lot. The quality depth that general manager Marc Bergevin assembled and the coaching style of Julien keeping consistent line combinations led to true dominance. Just take a look at the Canadiens’ metrics in goal differential, and the expected-goals model based on the shots they take and give up, crafted by
Canadiens at Winnipeg Jets: Five things you should know
Here are five things you should know about the Canadiens-Jets game at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg on Thursday (8 p.m., TSN2, TSN3, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM): The matchup: This will be Dominique Ducharme’s first game behind the bench as the Canadiens’ head coach and he takes over a team that has lost five of its last six games, although Montreal did salvage a couple of points in overtime and shootout losses to the last-place Ottawa Senators this week. This will be the first meeting this season between the Canadiens and the Jets, who hold the No. 3 spot in the Canadian division with 23 points, one point ahead of Montreal.
To read the chart above, being in the top right quadrant means a team is playing well and getting good results, while the top left means a team is playing well, but getting poor results. The bottom right is playing poorly, but getting good results, while the bottom left is playing poorly with poor results.
The Canadiens at 5-vs-5 are ridiculous. They’re controlling over 63 per cent of all goals in that situation and, although they’re getting lucky in that regard, their expected result is still an NHL-leading number at 58.1 per cent. Playing 5-vs-5 is not a problem for this team as they’re dominant in that regard and they get the results they earn. At 5-vs-5, Ducharme is unlikely to make any major changes, and if he does, it might be ill-advised.
There might be something to be said for giving Jesperi Kotkaniemi more opportunity, perhaps swapping him with Phillip Danault to see how well he can translate his strong production on a per-minute basis into bigger minutes.
Canadiens Game Day: Dominique Ducharme trying to put his stamp on team
Dominique Ducharme was thrown into the deep end without a life jacket as new head coach of the Canadiens. Ducharme didn’t even have a chance to hold one full practice before his first game behind the bench, Thursday night’s 6-3 loss to the Jets in Winnipeg, one day after taking over from Claude Julien It would have made much more sense for GM Marc Bergevin to have made the coaching move early last week when the Canadiens had a six-day break in the schedule and Ducharme would have had time to make the changes he wants to put in place.
What does need a complete overhaul though, is literally everything else. When you take 5-vs-5 hockey out of the equation and look at all other game states, the Canadiens go from contenders for the Stanley Cup to contenders for the draft lottery.
After another disastrous specials-teams failure in a 5-4 shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday, the Canadiens have the worst expected-goals-for percentage away from 5-vs-5 in the NHL, at just 40.8 per cent.
This season, the Canadiens have appeared to be a Jekyll and Hyde team by the division of the schedule, but the split of results has more to do with random variance than anything. They’ve been attacking off the rush less often, but the issues on special teams have been there all along, and they’re only getting worse.
Part of the issue for the Canadiens here is their league-worst penalty differential, where they’re drawing calls at an average rate, but take more penalties than any team in the NHL. The net result is the Canadiens giving their opponents 0.82 more power plays per game than they get, which doesn’t sound like much, but adds up over time, especially when their play in those situations is awful.
Canadiens Notebook: Dominique Ducharme keeps working on his new system
New Canadiens head coach Dominique Ducharme likes to limit his practices to 30-35 minutes, but he wants them to be intense. About 30 minutes into practice Monday at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard, Ducharme blew his whistle, stopped the action and held a mini team meeting on the ice. The Canadiens were working on Ducharme’s new forechecking system and the coach didn’t like what he was seeing. “I said instead of keeping going for three minutes and not doing it the right way I’ll stop, we’ll walk through it and they’ll understand and we’ll leave here better,” Ducharme explained after practice. “You always start with a plan,” Ducharme added.
The first step for the new coaching staff needs to be a directive for more discipline from certain players, with Ben Chiarot, Victor Mete and Brett Kulak among NHL leaders in minor penalties per minute played among defencemen. Forwards Josh Anderson and Danault are in the same boat and don’t draw nearly enough calls themselves to even it out.
Playing with more discipline is a start, but the special teams need a complete overhaul on top of that or the Canadiens will continue to struggle more than necessary.
Part of the needed changes are related to personnel. For example, the Canadiens’ strongest players on the power play last season were when Nick Suzuki and Tomas Tatar played together. This year, they’ve barely seen the ice. The bigger issue for the power play might be philosophical. The Canadiens’ shot leaders on the power play are Shea Weber and Jeff Petry, who are above-average-shooting defencemen, but they’re shooting from the blue line more often than not.
Compare the Habs’ strategy with that of the North Division-leading Maple Leafs, who are tied for the NHL’s best power play. Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Jason Spezza, Travis Boyd, William Nylander, Zach Hyman and Mitch Marner take shots more often than their top shooting defenceman, Morgan Rielly. Shot location matters, and the Canadiens’ power play has been operating like it’s still 2008 when the league has long since moved forward.
Canadiens Game Day: Jake Allen will be in goal for Habs vs. Jets
Jake Allen will be in goal for the Canadiens when they face the Winnipeg Jets Thursday night at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM). Allen has a 4-2-2 record this season, along with a 2.12 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage. The Canadiens were shut out in both of his regulation-time losses. The Canadiens are coming off a 3-1 win over the Ottawa Senators Tuesday night at the Bell Centre, in which Carey Price made 26 saves for the win, improving his record to 6-4-3 with a 2.96 goals-against average and a .893 save percentage. Canadiens goalie coach Stéphane Waite was fired after the second period of that game.
Andrew Berkshire is a Montreal-based hockey writer specializing in data-driven analysis of the game.
Montreal Canadiens tighten hold on 4th place in win over Vancouver Canucks .
Carey Price is playing like Carey Price. The Canadiens’ goaltender stopped 23 shots to lead the Canadiens to a 5-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena Wednesday and he has allowed only one goal in each of his last four starts. The win gave the Canadiens a 5-0-2 record against the Canucks as they tightened their hold on fourth place in the Canadian division. They are two points behind third-place Winnipeg and five points ahead of the Canucks, who have played five more games. The Canadiens were ready to play from the opening faceoff and Thatcher Demko was the only reason this game didn’t turn into a rout in the first period.