When you want something really bad and you have been extremely vocal publicly about it, it is a normal tendency to refuse to see the negative effects once you get what you desired. After all, saving face after repetitive harsh words is quite important, particularly if you want to be taken seriously by your peers… on Twitter of all places!
The #FireTherrien hashtag has been floating around for a few years already, and got stronger last year after the Montreal Canadiens’ monumental collapse in the second half of the season. Fans and media were leading a witch hunt campaign with torches and pitchforks to chase the head coach out of town in spite of a show of confidence by General Manager Marc Bergevin. The “fox hole” comments by the GM got quite the run amongst those wanting both of them out and it only got worse when the team traded fan-favourite P.K. Subban this past summer.
And when finally, on February 14th, Bergevin did let Michel Therrien go to replace him by Claude Julien, recently fired himself by the Boston Bruins, that crowd felt like all of the Canadiens’ problems were finally behind them. Personally, while I wasn’t in full support of Therrien and some of his decisions, I felt like his system of pressuring the puck in all three zones, particularly his two-men forecheck in the offensive zone, was a wind of fresh air after coming out of the offense-smothering, five-men back check in front of your net system of his predecessor Jacques Martin. For that reason, while I wasn’t doubting Julien’s track record, it raised some concerns in my mind about the team going back to that boring style of defensive hockey.
Bruins find their offense
One of the biggest issues this season with the Bruins has been scoring goals. While the team is 10th in the NHL allowing 2.59 goals per game, they are 16th in goals score per game at 2.73, which includes the games post-Julien. Since Claude Julien was fired and was replaced by Bruce Cassidy back on February 7th, the Boston Bruins have a 7-2-0 record. Since then, the team has found an offensive jolt, having scored 34 goals (3.78 goals per game) while only allowing 19 (2.11 goals per game). Nine games is a small sample, no doubt about it, and it’s unlikely that they will keep that tendency over the long run, but Cassidy has found a way to get the offensive juices flowing with his team which, let’s admit it, doesn’t have a lot of big names on it, something Julien had no answers for this season prior to his firing.
Habs are winning games
Since Julien replaced Therrien at the helm, the Canadiens are also showing great results, with a 5-2-0 record. The 2-1 win against the Nashville Predators was Julien’s first win in regulation time since taking over the team, with three of the wins coming in overtime and one in a shootout.
Carey Price, who had been horrible since mid-December, has found his mojo. Under Julien, Price has a saves percentage of .947 and he has not allowed more than two goals in a game since then. The jury is divided when it comes to deciding if the change is due to the system or if Price had refused to play under Therrien for the past couple of months.
So everything is good, right? Well not if you follow the game watching the #Habs hashtag on Twitter, where fans and media alike (particularly one from The Gazette who shall remain nameless), are chastising them for their lack of goals’ scoring.
The Julien effect?
The Canadiens, like the Bruins, are in the middle of the pack in the NHL, averaging 2.72 goals for per game, good for 17th in the league. That stat includes the seven games played under Julien where the team has only scored a grand total of 13 goals, or 1.86 goals per game. For the season, the Habs are 23rd in the NHL averaging 29.2 shots per game. Since Julien took over, they manage on average 27 shots per game. For the amateurs of fancy stats (which I’m not), the team is 3rd in the NHL for SAT% at 52.35%. Since Julien, they are at 51.7%.
That said, it’s defensively that we were hoping to notice the biggest difference. For the season, the Canadiens rank 20th in shots against per game with 29.9 and they average exactly the same average under Julien. Price has just been much better, which resulted in fewer goals against, as the team has only allowed 15 goals since the change (2.14 goals against per game), compared to the season average of 2.49, which puts them 6th best in the NHL in that department.
So aside from Price, what exactly is the biggest difference since Julien has taken over? The penalty kill has been outstanding. The Habs are 20th overall on the PK with a success rate of 80.1%, but since February 14th, the team has successfully killed 15 out of 17 penalties, with a success rate of 88.2%. To give you an idea of what this means, the Bruins lead the NHL with a 86.0% success rate. The Canadiens are also more disciplined under Julien. For the season, they have been short-handed 221 times in 65 games (3.4 times per game) but since Julien took over, they have been short-handed 17 times in seven games (2.4 times per game).
So as you can see, Price picking up his game and the penalty kill not allowing as many goals are the biggest improvements so far since Claude Julien has taken over. The offense has, in fact, suffered and that, in spite of the team getting back on his winning way. Obviously, we need a bigger sample of games before jumping to conclusions but let’s just hope that the tendencies change soon, as this team might not make it out of the first round of the playoffs if they don’t. Go Habs Go!