Canadiens’ struggles impact team award as improbable collapse continues

The Canadiens won’t be awarding the Molson Cup in January because no one distinguished themselves as the player of the month, and that’s not surprising given how Montreal has played. Everything has pointed to the Canadiens slide ending at some point, but the Habs are bucking what advanced statistics say in all the wrong ways.

The past two months have been a seemingly endless nightmare for the Montreal Canadiens. Since the beginning of December, the Canadiens have slipped from first place in the Atlantic Division and first in the entire NHL to sitting five points out of the post-season. In their past 26 games, Montreal has posted a 5-20-1 record, far and away the worst record in the NHL over that span.

If you’re looking for another example of just how bleak things have been for the Canadiens, though, look no further than the team-awarded player of the month award, the Molson Cup. No player received the award for January, a month in which the Canadiens went 3-7-1.

That in and of itself is not necessarily an indictment of the Canadiens play as the award is handed to the player with the most first-, second- and third-star votes throughout a month. According to RDS’ Francois Gagnon, each of Brendan Gallagher, Max Pacioretty and Lars Eller tied for the award with a first star and third star honor in January. However, that three players tied for the award speaks to the team’s mediocrity over the past month, and marks the first time this has happened in the 43-year history of the award.

At this point, it feels far-fetched to believe even the return of all-world goaltender Carey Price could help turn things around, but, truthfully, that really is what the Canadiens need more than anything. Since Dec. 1, Montreal has been in a tailspin in large part due to shoddy goaltending. The Mike Condon who was wowing everyone with his ability to start in place of an injured Price has gone missing, and Ben Scrivens, acquired to be a stop-gap while Price remained sidelined and Condon struggled, hasn’t been able to shoulder the load.

No team since the start of December has had a worse save percentage than the Canadiens, and that’s not even close to up for debate. At 5-on-5, Montreal’s save percentage is a woeful .901, nearly .015 worse than the San Jose Sharks, the team with the league’s 29th-worst 5-on-5 SP since Dec. 1. It doesn’t get any better at all strengths, either, as Montreal remains in last place in the league with an .880 SP.

It shouldn’t be surprising then that Condon, Scrivens and Dustin Tokarski, now with Anaheim but who played four games during this stretch, all have disappointing numbers over this stretch. Of the 65 goaltenders who have played 150 minutes at 5-on-5 since Dec. 1, Condon, Scrivens and Tokarski are among the worst in terms of SP. Tokarski is no longer Montreal’s concern, but Condon (57th, .902 SP) and Scrivens (55th, .907 SP) should be making Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin worry.

READ ALSO:  Montreal Canadiens legend Elmer Lach passes away at 97

Of course, Price can’t be a cure-all, and the Canadiens need to find ways to score because right now they’re shooting blanks. At 5-on-5, Montreal’s shooting percentage since Dec. 1 is a league-worst 5.2 percent, more than half a percent worse than the next-worst team, the Nashville Predators. The fourth-worst team in the league, the St. Louis Blues, are a full percentage point better at 6.2 percent.

Montreal’s combined shooting and save percentages at 5-on-5 add up to an abysmal PDO of 95.3, but even that should have given Canadiens fans some hope by now that things were bound to turnaround. Instead, the struggles have continued.

It’s mind-boggling, too, that the Canadiens have been this bad given the team has actually maintained stellar underlying numbers that can usually show promise during slumps like this. Since Dec. 1, only the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks have posted better possession numbers than Montreal’s 54.2 percent shot attempts for percentage at 5-on-5. Only six teams have had more favorable zone starts than the Canadiens, who’ve got an offensive zone start percentage of 52.4. From what we know about advanced statistics, a continued slump like this shouldn’t be happening. Then again, we might be beyond calling what the Canadiens have gone through the past two months a slump.

Fact of the matter is, though, something needs to change in Montreal. The pre-emptive return of Price is incredibly unlikely — the Canadiens aren’t going to risk Price injuring himself again — and there doesn’t appear to be a big name on the market who the Canadiens could scoop up to spark their offense immediately.

Be it a change in system, more activated defense or willingness to forego more pucks in favor of attempting to hold pucks until in a high-danger position, coach Michel Therrien needs to find an answer. If he can’t, Montreal may go from Stanley Cup favorite to having a great shot at the first-overall pick in less than 60 games. And while Auston Matthews would be a nice addition, the season the Canadiens would have had leading up to getting him would be one every Montreal fan would love to forget.

(All advanced statistics via War-On-Ice)