Coaching Decisions Costing the Habs

The General Manager gathers the players. The players play and the coaches make the coaching decisions. In order for a team to win games, the GM must get the right players who in turn, must provide their best effort. But if the coach makes the wrong decisions behind the bench, all of this is moot. Often times, coaches get too much credit but sometimes, they don’t get enough blame.

The Canadiens were up to a good start on the road as we’ve touched on recently. But that’s until team head coach Claude Julien made a couple of decisions which might just have cost his team a few points.

The first decision was, in my opinion, to save the best goalie in the world for the home opener when the team faced a more ferocious opponent the night before on the road. It’s no secret that Julien will use both his goaltenders when his team is playing back to back nights. But the choice of playing backup Keith Kinkaid in Buffalo against stronger Sabres just to keep Carey Price for the home opener is a decision that I personally don’t support.

A home opener is only special because there’s a players’ introduction prior to game time. It’s a marketing tool. The game itself is just like any other game. It’s worth two points and those two points are just as important as two points late in the season. It can be the difference between extending the season in April or grabbing the golf clubs… again.

Claude Julien

You have the best goalie in the world. You have got to play him against the tougher opponents and that, regardless of a home opener or not. The goal of any NHL team is to win games and there’s no denying that Price gives the Habs the best chance at winning games. So you play him against the tougher opponents. Period. Is Kinkaid an improvement over Antti Niemi? AndrĂ© “Red Light” Racicot would be an improvement over Niemi the way he played last year. But he’s no Carey Price… far, far from there.

You see, on the second night of a back to back, the team is tired. Your best chance of winning is in the first game. So you go with your best goalie, particularly against a stronger team. On the second night, you hope for the best. People were saying that “they would be mad if they had tickets for the home opener and Price wasn’t in net”. To that I reply: does that mean that Price must be playing every single home game? After all, people buy their tickets for those games too, no? That was a marketing decision going against a hockey decision. They picked the marketing which could have very well cost the team in terms of hockey.

Second mistake

Julien’s second mind boggling decision was not so much to scratch the defensive pairing of Brett Kulak and Cale Fleury in Buffalo and replace them with Mike Reilly and Christian Folin, but to stick with them in Montreal the next day. Three reasons to go back to the Kulak-Fleury pairing:

  • For one, Kulak is the best defenseman today of those four.
  • Two, Julien has the last change in Montreal so he can better control the match-ups for young Fleury.
  • Last but not least, they are fresh, not having played the night before. You have spares Claude, use them!

I know that some folks will think that this is blaming Kinkaid and/or the Reilly-Folin pairing. It’s not the case. Price and fresh players give you a better chance to win. That’s all. The end result of those two questionable decisions is that the Canadiens came out with a single point off a possibility of four, against division rivals, teams who they will be battling with to make the playoffs. That’s not on the GM, nor is it on the players. Those results are solely on the coach. Here’s hoping that Julien minimizes those mistakes so it doesn’t cost his team a playoffs’ berth. Go Habs Go!

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Home Sweet Home: A Road Warriors Summary

Finally! The NHL season is well underway and we are already starting to notice some surprises across the league. The Carolina Hurricanes as sitting at the top of the league with a 4-0 record. The Buffalo Sabres are leading the Atlantic division. The Tampa Bay Lightning, Pittsburgh Penguins and Dallas Stars are out of a playoffs’ spot. The San Jose Sharks have yet to win a game in four attempts, being outscored by a combined 12 goals so far!

The Montreal Canadiens are set to play their first home game of the season tonight after a heartbreak loss in overtime to the Sabres last night. In three road games, the team has yet to lose in regulation and they are coming home with a total of four points. There have been some positive points, and some not so positive aspects that we’ve all noticed. So here’s a summary of the pros and cons of the Canadiens’ first road trip.

PROS

Jonathan Drouin
  • Habs have accumulated four out of a possible six points on this road trip to start the season
  • Only Montreal and Boston have yet to play a home game in the Eastern Conference
  • Habs are a single point back of the almighty Maple Leafs with a game in hand
  • They haven’t lost in regulation
  • They average four goals per game (tied for 6th in the NHL)
  • They average 35 shots on goal per game
  • The power play is clicking at a rate of 33.3% (3 for 9), tied for 5th best in the NHL
  • Nine players with at least 2 points
  • Jesperi Kotkaniemi didn’t score a single goal on the road all year last season. He has two in three games.
  • Joel Armia, Jonathan Drouin. Brendan Gallagher and Artturi Lehkonen all have three points.
  • In addition to his three points, Drouin has a team leading plus -3
  • Five players with a faceoffs’ percentage of 50% or over, led by Nate Thompson at 56.4%
  • Never die attitude, came back from at least two-goals deficits in all three games.

CONS

  • They allow 4.33 goals per game (7th worst in the NHL)
  • They allow 39.7 shots per game
  • The penalty kill is at a dismal 69.2%
  • Tomas Tatar has eight penalty minutes
  • Rookies Cale Fleury and Nick Suzuki are struggling off the gate, realizing this isn’t preseason anymore.
  • Carey Price with a 3.69 GAA and .900 Sv%
  • Keith Kinkaid with a 4.93 GAA and a .872 Sv%

It’s early. Too early to gauge the season on only three road games. But we are starting to notice some tendencies, some good ones and some bad ones. For example, in spite of having three assists, it is clear that in order for the Canadiens to take the next step, they need an improvement on the top-6 forward group for Lehkonen and if Suzuki delays much further to show signs of offense, they will have to find a solution there as well. The defense is atrocious, as is the penalty kill and the goaltending, while not the team’s biggest weakness, will have to improve.

That being said, there were more positives than negatives in this first road trip and now that Claude Julien will have the last changes for the next four games (at home), we should see the pendulum slowing down a bit and allow to give us all a better idea of the team in front of our eyes. The first road trip, while not perfect, is mission accomplished. Now onto the first home stand. Go Habs Go!