For a few years now, the Montreal Canadiens have accustomed their fans to a different strategy: the Slingshot offense. In order to play that style, you need to ensure not to have any superstar player, especially up front. While it can have skills, it is crucial that the team makes sure not to have too much size on the top six in order to be able to be checked and pushed around easily. As a matter of fact, the slingshot offense works even better if you have four lines that pretty much resemble each other with interchangeable players, meaning that they must have some skills, be able to skate but not have too much finish around the net. Physical players need not to apply and those caught hitting or fighting may be traded away, even if they were known to have success in the past playing that style. Finally, the slingshot offense relies heavily on the powerplay and takes most of its shots from the perimeter at even strength.
More seriously, the Habs have a very fast team with some decent skills up front. But they simply don’t have the combination of size, skill and experience needed to compete, to score goals. Whether we liked him or not, one must admit that the trade of Lapierre, who was leading the team in hits (30 more than the next player), didn’t help address the lack of size and physicality. Their bigger players are either too young (Pacioretty, Eller) or too inconsistent (Pouliot, Kostitsyn) to play a key role on the top 6 to help the smaller skilled players on the top two lines.
As a result, the Canadiens as a team are 25th out of 30 in goals for per game. Much has been said about their struggling PP but they’re a respectable 10th in the NHL, meaning that it can’t be used as an excuse for the lack of offense.
The Habs’ top goals scorer is Brian Gionta with 14, 39th in the league! Their top points’ getter is Tomas Plekanec with 32, good for 42nd in the NHL! In the NHL, 17 teams (57% of the teams) have at least one player ahead of Plekanec in the scoring race! Here’s the split:
- 4 teams with one player ahead of Plekanec: New York Rangers, Buffalo, Calgary and Carolina.
- 4 teams with two players ahead of Plekanec: Chicago, Minnesota, Dallas and Tampa Bay.
- 9 teams with three players with more points than Plekanec: Atlanta, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, San Jose, Anaheim, Vancouver, Washington and Detroit. That’s 30% of the teams in the NHL having not one, not two, but three (3) players with more points than the Habs’ leader!
This leaves absolutely no room for mistakes for your defence and your goalie.
How to solve this?
I strongly believe that the system preached by the head coach is the major factor but the purpose of this blog is not to put down Jacques Martin. So here is what I would suggest:
- Pierre Gauthier absolutely needs to address the lack of size up front. He made a great acquisition in James Wisniewski but if he wants this team to be somewhat competitive comes spring time, he must sacrifice some quality youth in order to get a true top 6 power forward.
- In my humble opinion, Gauthier made a mistake in trading Lapierre. He needs to add some size and grit without taking any away. Keep Moen, send Pyatt down, and call up White. Go get a player in the mold of David Clarkson and/or Zack Stortini, players who will go to war for their teammates and add some much needed size and grit.
- I would suggest that Martin starts using more bottom 6 players on the PK and less of Plekanec, Gomez, Gionta and Cammalleri. Why? Two reasons:
- When they’re out killing penalties, they can’t do what they do best, which is generate offense. They seem tired and lack energy to be effective on offense.
- When they kill a penalty, Martin has to come back with the 3rd or 4th line immediately after the kill because he needs to rest his offensive weapons, therefore taking away any momentum and key offensive ice time.
This is where Lapierre would have been useful but what’s done is done. You can teach defence but you can’t teach offensive skills. Keep those skills for offense!
- Activate the defence! If you’ve ever had the luxury of watching the Vancouver Canucks (arguably the best team in the NHL), you will notice that while stingy on defence, their defensemen constantly join the rush to support the forwards. In return, the forwards do the same. Yet, they don’t have a true legitimate number one defenseman. Pair up an offensive defenseman with a defensive one and give them the green light to go. You can always teach the young Subban and Weber when they make mistakes, not by benching them but by explaining when to do it and when not to.
- The Habs have a fast team. This means that they have the ability to put a more aggressive fore-check while still being able to come back to help. Use it! The base for all lines should be at the very least a 2-1-2 fore-check, or even a 2-2-1 against teams with bad defence. Use the stretch pass from time to time to create room in the neutral zone. Put more pressure on the defensemen at the point in our zone to force turnovers.
Those are only a few ideas which I feel would help this team generate more offense. It doesn’t need a complete overhaul, simply some key tweaking here and there from both the GM and the head coach.
What do you think?
In French: Attaque de tire-pois