After getting eliminated in the 2017 NHL Playoffs in six games, how do the Montreal Canadiens improve next season? Part of a continuing series for eliminated teams.
The Montreal Canadiens have been eliminated from 2017 NHL Playoffs contention in six games by the New York Rangers. Now, Montreal came in as the top seed in the Atlantic division. The expectations for the Canadiens were higher than they were able to achieve.
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How, then, did the Canadiens find an early playoff exit? What areas can the Canadiens improve so it doesn’t happen again next season? How do the Canadiens get into Cup contention?
Offensive Fire Power
Montreal Canadiens right wing Alexander Radulov (47) celebrates his goal against New York Rangers with left wing Max Pacioretty (67) (Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports)
The Canadiens came in tied for eleventh in goals in the first round. Tied with the St. Louis Blues, who won in five games, and the Boston Bruins, who have not finished their series yet. The only teams the Canadiens were clearly ahead of in goals were the Calgary Flames (swept), the Minnesota Wild (eight goals) and the Chicago Blackhawks (swept, three goals).
That’s not good enough, clearly. The Canadiens were not able to find any production from most of their players, including trade deadline acquisitions Dwight King, Steve Ott, or Jordie Benn. Again, that’s not good enough. The Canadiens had a strategy of size over anything else, and when the size didn’t score, it helped to defeat the Canadiens.
Interestingly, the skilled, smaller players that the Canadiens do have were able to produce. Alexander Radulov scored two goals, including one of the best of the NHL Playoffs so far: watch
Paul Byron, who’s all speed and really no size, also scored for the Canadiens, as did somewhat playoff-surprise Artturi Lehkonen. Brendan Gallagher, a small pest, also scored a goal. So the Canadiens should shift strategies to promote these guys who were able to find NHL Playoff success.
Shift away from size, which did really nothing to help you in the playoffs, and focus on getting younger players with a lot of speed on this roster. That would have overwhelmed the Rangers, and as the Penguins have done for years, would overwhelm much of the rest of the league.
That’s really the biggest problem for me. Montreal lost because they couldn’t score. It seems like they chose size over shooting ability, and they lost because of it.
Defense Needs to Get Younger
These NHL playoffs have shown that the Canadiens were older. Carey Price stopped a lot of the shots coming his way, posting a 1.86 GAA and .933 SV%, but he can’t be goaltender and defenseman on the ice.
Pittsburgh Penguins center Matt Cullen (7) crashes into Montreal Canadiens goalie Al Montoya (35) as defensemen Shea Weber (6) and Andrei Markov (79) defend (Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports)
The Canadiens defense allowed 30 shots per game, not great. The Canadiens need to find a significant decrease in age for their defensemen. Five of their likely top six defensemen next season will be above thirty years of age. That’s past their peak and on the downward slope.
If Montreal is going to boost defense next NHL playoffs, they’re going to need to get younger, faster, and more efficient. The Canadiens have both Nathan Beaulieu and Nikita Nesterov, both of who will be restricted free agents this offseason. Re-signing them would help.
Beaulieu was one of just fourteen players who scored in some way for the Canadiens this series. In thirteen regular season games, Nesterov scored five points, including a goal. The Canadiens also have young Mikhail Sergachev in the minors.
Montreal Canadiens defenseman Alexei Emelin (74) (Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports)
Petry had his best career season last year and was also one of the few goal scorers for the Canadiens this postseason. Emelin can’t stay healthy, never playing more than 76 games, but scored a goal. Benn was recently brought in and neither scored nor assisted in six games. But Benn is cheap.
Trading Emelin would likely help the Canadiens. Not only is he the oldest out of these three, he’s also the one who can’t stay healthy. He only has one year of contract left at 4 million, so he could be easier to move as well.
So Why Did Montreal Lose?
Again, this all comes down to offensive production. The goaltending was perfectly fine. The defense is aging and needs to get younger, but they played their part, holding the Rangers to just the 12th most shots in the first round.
The fact that Montreal couldn’t score killed them. They lost a game where the game-winning goal was scored by Tanner Glass. They have to be better offensively. Re-sign Radulov, get younger. It’s going to be important for Claude Julien in his first full season of Montreal coaching to rev up those offensive engines before the NHL playoffs and to keep them going.