Flip a coin. That about sums it up.
Getting the all important first goal and keeping the momentum going has not been a strong point for the Canadiens this year. The Habs have scored the first goal 35 times this season in 71 games played (as of their 3-2 shootout victory over the Ottawa Senators March 14). That in itself is troubling as they’ve only managed to open the scoring in just under 50% of the games they’ve played to date.
What they’ve done after scoring first borders on horrifying. Out of the 35 times the Canadiens opened the scoring, they’ve won 17 games. This again equates to just under a 50% winning percentage. While their record when getting scored on first is a dismal 11 victories in 36 games, losing 18 games when getting on the scoreboard first is a concern that absolutely needs to be addressed in the offseason.
This upsetting season has exposed several issues with the club. Lack of depth on defense, as Andrei Markov suffered setbacks, led to a revolving door on the back end. It also led to trading for journeyman defenseman over the last calendar year Tomas Kaberle, and his unsettling contract, to patch up a disastrous power play. While he put up respectable numbers, he didn’t have the impact management must’ve been hoping for.
A lack of productivity from established goal scorers and point producers (yes, Scott Gomez included) coupled with injuries and the inability to find any wingers for Tomas Plekanec, without breaking up the Canadiens’ only producing offensive line, will also have to be looked at.
Goaltending will be the same since Peter Budaj is sticking around for another year. Maybe having him split the next 11 games with Carey Price to see what he’s got in him when given a heavier load might help next years coaching staff decide how many games Price should play.
And there are galaxies of other tweaks that need to be made to fine tune this team but the major issue remains what the Canadiens are doing on the ice when they’re leading a hockey game. Blowing the lead 25 times to date is unacceptable. Not to mention the times they’ve blown the lead only to scrape by with an overtime or shootout victory (see the 4 minute horror show against the Minnesota Wild).
What we have now is more or less the team moving forward into next season. Management needs to find a way to restore confidence in this group when they’re leading a hockey game, whether it’s three minutes into the first period or the dying seconds of the third.
Whoever manages the team next year, and I honestly think it’ll be Pierre Gauthier at this point, needs to push the coaching staff, and I honestly think Randy Cunneyworth will not be at the head of it, to regulate this problem.
A contending team will not lose more games than they win when scoring first and they certainly will not blow wins by coughing up two and three goal leads to lose in regulation, overtime or shootouts.
Winners don’t find a way to lose.