Forget about Stanley Cups for one minute. Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. The big, red, white and blue elephant that dons a Montreal Canadiens jersey along with pads, a blocker, glove, chest protector, specialized skates, and a particular helmet.
Well, lately the helmets we’re most familiar with are more along the lines of:
And you surely recognize these guys, right?
You get the picture.
What do these former and current superstar goaltenders all have in common? Besides having proudly worn the crest that best represents a long and winding history of excellence in the National Hockey League, most of these men have single-handedly held Habs teams together. They’ve essentially always been the team’s standout player upon whom rested any hopes of making it to the playoffs or dreams of winning a championship. In short, goaltenders have been and continue to be the Habs’ best players, and that is not a recipe for success in the NHL.
That, dear readers, is exactly what’s been wrong with the Canadiens’ identity for the last 25 years: a flawed reliance on goalies along with poor scoring support.
Lack of scoring– A few stats
I don’t need to remind anybody, but I will nonetheless: the Habs have a very hard time scoring goals.
Since the 1992-1993 regular season, they have averaged no more than 3.88 goals-per-game in a calendar year and three or less in 21 of the past 25 seasons. Since the ’92-’93 season, the Habs have averaged 2.78 goals-per-game (5,391 total in 1935 regular season games played) while allowing an average of 2.74 goals-against (5,305 in total).
At first glance, these numbers might seem to paint a slightly flattering picture of the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge. However, the team has allowed more goals-against than they’ve scored in 11 of their last 25 seasons and through 31 games in 2017-2018, they’ve scored 84 goals (2.7GF/GP) and allowed 98 against (3.16GA/GP).
Moreover, in 16 playoff appearances since 1993, they played a total of 159 games with a 74-85 record. They scored 413 goals (2.59 GF/GP) while allowing 463 (2.91 GA/GP) and took home one Stanley Cup thanks especially to the heroics of one Patrick Roy.
In 2010, Jaroslav Halak backstopped the Canadiens through to the Eastern Conference championship. Clear underdogs at the time, the team managed to defeat the surging Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins and were it not for Halak and his miraculous saves, the Habs would have likely been eliminated in the first round. Granted, Michael Cammalleri did score 13 goals in 19 games and Brian Gionta added nine in 15 games, but the drop is significant thereafter as only four were scored by Tomas Plekanec and Dominic Moore. Click here to see totals from the 2010 playoffs.
Let’s face it; unless Price is at the absolute top of his game and is healthy, the roster overall is in shambles. Everyone who pays close attention to the Habs knows this, yet we somehow excuse the team’s glaring lack of talent whenever Price is not around. The Canadiens are the only team whose “best player” is their netminder, and that’s incredibly foolish.
Worse yet, Price is signed for another eight years (starting next summer), and I sincerely doubt there will be a change of mentality within the Habs organization. The goaltender will continue to be the team’s best player until his contract expires and thus will be overly relied upon to give this club a hint of a chance at making the playoffs.
Oh, and please don’t talk to me about trading Price now. The organization didn’t have the foresight to do so two years ago after he won four NHL trophies. Thus, they’ll be hardpressed to generate interest from other teams given his lengthy and expensive contract, his winding history of injuries, and a tendency to miss games for whatever reasons.
After all, it’s not like Price’s 8-9-2 record, 3.16 GAA and .899 SV% will attract potential suitors anytime soon…
The reality is that as Habs fans, our standards for success should be higher. You’ve heard it several times: “if only Price could score goals,” this team would fare a lot better than it has in recent years. I’m well aware of their recent regular season successes, but that’s worth nothing for a team that defined excellence in the NHL for over a century with 24 Stanley Cups to its name. Sadly, we are somehow encouraged to believe that we should be content with the organization’s results since Marc Bergevin was named general manager in 2012. However, the team is realistically on the verge of missing the playoffs this year and even if they managed to squeeze in despite rather weak competition in the Atlantic Division, they will yet again find themselves ousted in the first round due to a lack of scoring talent.
While having superstar goalies somewhat paid dividends in the past, this simply will not work anymore. We, as fans, bloggers, analysts, and journalists need to start demanding more from the organization. I mentioned in an earlier piece that a rebuilding process could potentially unite Habs fans who are increasingly losing interest in watching their team underperform and frankly bore them to sleep. Should the rebuild begin, at least fans will know where they stand for a (welcomed) change, and I personally believe that could bring about a wave of optimism that has been sorely lacking this season.
Otherwise, expect more of the same with the Canadiens for years to come; a middle-of-the-pack squad that solely relies on its goaltender to give it a glimmer of hope in re-acquainting itself with its once-former elite status.