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Putrid power play might doom Canadiens’ playoff dreams

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Most times, when an NHL team is struggling, players will try to explain things away with buzzwords.

You’ll hear the sort of phrases that will get a lot of heads nodding – probably that of the head coach, in particular – which Andrew Shaw deployed in pondering the Montreal Canadiens’ struggles in trying to cement a spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“We’ve had bad starts, we’ve had bad periods, we’ve had bad shifts,” Shaw said after Thursday’s 2-1 loss to the Islanders, according to NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “That hunger, that bite, it’s not there. It’s not where we need to be. We need to be a playoff team right now, and it looks like we’re just going out there and playing.”

Most signs point toward success

Talking about “that hunger, that bite” works, and probably gets some stomachs rumbling around dinner time. But effort (or a lack thereof) isn’t really a useful explanation for why the Canadiens have gone 6-9-0 in their last 15 games, placing them in what looks to be a really tight battle with the Columbus Blue Jackets for the East’s final playoff spot.

[More: The Push for the Playoffs details where the Habs rank.]

Sure, it’s sometimes difficult to look at numbers and tell the story of effort, but some of the telltale signs are there that Montreal’s still playing hard.

Since Feb. 9, Montreal’s been a high-end possession stat team by Natural Stat Trick’s metrics, just like they have overall the long haul of the season. While they “only” rank 11th since Feb. 9 at controlling the percentage of high-danger chances in a game, generating 52.05 percent is still very healthy.

What’s been going wrong, then?

If you’re wondering about goaltending, it’s not the biggest problem. Carey Price hasn’t been at his peak lately (.911 save percentage since Feb. 9), but he hasn’t been totally letting the Canadiens down.

The glaring problem

Instead, it’s pretty simple: Montreal’s power play has been abysmal.

During this slump, the Canadiens have gone 3-for-41 on the power play, which ends up being a putrid 7.3 percent success rate. That’s the worst mark in the NHL during that span since Feb. 9, with the Vancouver Canucks (8.3 percent) ranking as the only other team below double digits.

While Shaw can bring up elbow grease and sticktoitiveness, Claude Julien should be exploring answers to the power play question. To be specific, what’s been going wrong?

  • To some extent, this is just bad luck. Even the league’s most predictable, skill-low power plays should operate at much higher than 7.3 percent over the long haul.
  • That said, maybe there’s something systemic.

Personally, when I see that a team’s power play is ice cold, I usually check to see who’s shooting. Chances are, a power play might struggle because too many shots are coming from defensemen firing on low-quality opportunities.

That seems to be the case with Montreal, leading to a hypothesis: Shea Weber‘s booming shot is probably a curse disguised as a blessing.

During the 16 games since Feb. 9, Weber has 16 PP SOG, double that of the second-highest total (Jonathan Drouin‘s eight in 15 GP).

In the 54 games before this slump, Drouin leads with 33 SOG on the power play, followed by Tomas Tatar‘s 31. Weber’s numbers are more limited because of his lengthy bout with injuries, yet it’s interesting see that he generated 14 in 31 games. That’s less than one every two games, versus the one-per-night Weber has averaged during these tough 16 games.

None of this is to say that the Canadiens should stop Weber from shooting on the power play altogether. He really does boast a pretty unique weapon. Despite missing all of those games, he still has 11 goals in 2018-19, and actually just scored the 200th of his fantastic career.

But maybe the Canadiens are telegraphing their attempts to Weber too much.

Things were more effective when shots were dispersed more communally, with the highest-end scorers like Drouin, Tatar, Brendan Gallagher, and Max Domi leading the way. Maybe the Canadiens would be best served pretending that Weber is just another PP QB, and use him a lot like they did with Jeff Petry?

***

Since Feb. 9, the Canadiens’ 43 goals ranks 12th-worst in the NHL, but if you zero in to even-strength, Montreal’s 39 goals comes in at 13th-best.

So, the comforting part of all of this is that the Canadiens have generally been playing well, only that their power play’s been a disaster. The less-comforting part is that, if they don’t figure things out soon, that man advantage might be enough of a disadvantage to derail their playoff hopes.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: Price passes Plante; hats off for Jenner, Gaudreau

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Three Stars

1. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames. The Calgary Flames kept pace with the San Jose Sharks in the Pacific Division race with a 9-4 win over the New Jersey Devils, featuring the NHL’s first six-point game since the 2013-14 season from Johnny Gaudreau. Read all about it here.

2. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens. The list of Hall of Famers and legendary goalies to play for the Montreal Canadiens organization is a lengthy and impressive one. It is a who’s who list of some of the greatest goalies in the history of the league, and Carey Price now officially has more wins than all of them. By stopping 20 of the 21 shots he faced in a 3-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night, Price earned the 315th win of his career and moved him ahead of Hall of Famer Jacques Plante for sole possession of first place on the team’s all-time wins list.

3. Boone Jenner, Columbus Blue Jackets. The Columbus Blue Jackets’ offense has gone cold in the games after the trade deadline and it has put them in a tough spot when it comes to making the playoffs, especially with a tough schedule still remaining down the stretch. The offense finally clicked on Tuesday night in a 7-4 win over the Boston Bruins — who have now lost two regulation games in a row after going 19 consecutive games without one — that was highlighted by a hat trick from Boone Jenner to give him 15 goals on the season.

Highlights of the Night

Joe Pavelski scored the game-winning goal for the San Jose Sharks with just 3.6 seconds remaining in their 5-4 win over the Winnipeg Jets.

The Pittsburgh Penguins stormed back for a 5-3 win over the Washington Capitals thanks in part to a pair of goals from Sidney Crosby. The first of those two goals was a beauty.

Some highlights from Carey Price’s milestone night for the Montreal Canadiens.

This is not really a “highlight” in the traditional sense, but it is still worth watching as MacKenzie Blackwood’s water bottle did not cooperate.

Daniel Sprong has not always put it all together at the NHL level, but there is no denying his talent when he does. His goal on Tuesday was the game-winner for the Anaheim Ducks in their 3-2 win over the Nashville Predators.

Factoids

  • Believe it, the Arizona Coyotes are in a playoff spot thanks to their 3-1 win over the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night, and Oliver-Ekman Larsson scored his 10th goal of the season. He is one of just four defenders, joining a list that includes Brent Burns, Roman Josi, and Mark Giordano, to score at least 10 goals in each of the past six seasons. [NHL PR]
  • Ben Bishop is on an incredible run for the Dallas Stars and quietly putting together a Vezina Trophy caliber season. He recorded his third consecutive shutout on Tuesday night, helping the Stars top the Buffalo Sabres. [NHL PR]
  • Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin are the fourth pair of players to each record 1,000 points after being selected No. 1 and 2 overall in an NHL draft year. Malking recorded his 1,000th point on Tuesday night, while Ovechkin recorded his 1,200th point in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 5-3 win. [NHL PR]

Scores

Dallas Stars 2, Buffalo Sabres 0

Pittsburgh Penguins 5, Washington Capitals 3

Columbus Blue Jackets 7, Boston Bruins 4

Montreal Canadiens 3, Detroit Red Wings 1

Arizona Coyotes 3, St. Louis Blues 1

San Jose Sharks 5, Winnipeg Jets 4

Calgary Flames 9, New Jersey Devils 4

Anaheim Ducks 3, Nashville Predators 2

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL on NBCSN: Anaheim looking to build off recent success vs. Kings

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday night’s matchup between the Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Ducks. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Battle of the Bottom Feeders will feature the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks on Sunday night.

The Kings sit dead last in the Western Conference while the Ducks come in at the 14th spot, one better than their Sunday night foes. Both teams have struggled mightily to score this year, too, with Anaheim dead last with 156 goals for and Los Angeles only three tallies better at 159.

Still, the Ducks haven’t packed it in yet. They’ve won three of their past four outings after losing five straight and came off a monster 8-2 win against the Montreal Canadiens on Friday for their highest single-game goal count of the season.

The Canadiens started Carey Price in that game and the Ducks saw that as bulletin board material.

“They saved [Price] for tonight, so we took that as a challenge,” Adam Henrique said after the game. “You never want to be the team that somebody thinks they can come into your building and win.”

Ryan Getzlaf will be featured on Star Sunday for the Ducks. His team’s struggles have been mirrored in his own play this season, with no goals in his past 10 games and just two in his past 29.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

For the Kings, any win will be a welcomed change as they come into Sunday losers of 13 of their past 14 (1-9-4), including six straight.

This will be the first season since 2003-04 that neither of these teams has made the playoffs and the Kings haven’t won a playoff series since winning the Stanley Cup in 2014. Los Angeles has missed the playoffs in two of the past four seasons.

The addition of 35-year-old Ilya Kovalchuk, who signed a 3-year, $18.75M contract in July ($6.25M AAV), hasn’t panned out as intended. The Russian has just 30 points in 57 games this season (14 goals, 16 assists). He has just one goal in his past eight games.

Drew Doughty will be the Kings’ representative on Star Sunday. He’s second in the NHL averaging 26:50 time on ice per game this season. His plus/minus rating has seen a whopping 53 point swing this season, going from plus-23 last year to minus-30 this season.

Alex Faust (play-by-play) and Brian Hayward (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Anaheim.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Push for the Playoffs: Hurricanes, Canadiens look to build some cushion in East

Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2018-19 NHL season. We’ll highlight the current playoff picture in both conferences, take a look at what the first-round matchups might look like, see who’s leading the race for the best odds in the draft lottery and more.

The Carolina Hurricanes and Montreal Canadiens received some big help on Thursday in the form of the Columbus’ Blue Jackets loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins (read about it here), keeping both of them two points up  in the Eastern Conference Wild Card race.

Now they have a chance to help themselves on Friday night.

The Canadiens missed an opportunity to gain some ground with their loss to the San Jose Sharks on Thursday, but are right back in action tonight when they visit the Anaheim Ducks with Carey Price going for the franchise’s all-time wins record. A win would give them a four-point cushion over the Blue Jackets heading into the weekend with still one head-to-head meeting remaining on the schedule. Given where the Ducks are in the standings and how they have played for most of the season you have to think this is two points the Canadiens do not want to leave sitting on the table.

Carolina, meanwhile, looks to continue its white-hot play since the start of the calendar year when it plays host to the Winnipeg Jets. The Hurricanes are 19-6-1 since the start of the new year and would jump back into the third spot in the Metropolitan Division with a win over a slumping Jets team that is stuck in a back-and-forth race with the Nashville Predators for first place in the Central.

Elsewhere in the East, the Washington Capitals are facing a completely depleted New Jersey Devils roster and have a chance to regain the top spot in the Metropolitan Division with a win.

Out west, the Minnesota Wild are coming off of a massive win over the Tampa Bay Lighting on Thursday night to increase their current point streak to eight games. They have a chance to make it nine games in a row on Friday against the Florida Panthers. A win would increase their lead over the Arizona Coyotes to five points in the Western Conference Wild Card race.

IF PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Lightning vs. Canadiens
Islanders vs. Hurricanes
Capitals vs. Penguins
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Flames vs. Wild
Predators vs. Stars
Jets vs. Blues
Sharks vs. Golden Knights

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS
Minnesota Wild vs. Florida Panthers (7 p.m. ET)
New Jersey Devils vs. Washington Capitals (7 p.m. ET)
Winnipeg Jets vs. Carolina Hurricanes (7:30 p.m. ET)
Montreal Canadiens vs. Anaheim Ducks (10 p.m. ET)

Here is today’s Stanley Cup Playoff clinching scenario:

The Lightning will clinch a playoff berth:
• If the Canadiens lose in regulation at the Ducks.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Sports Club Stats)
Tampa Bay Lightning — 100 percent
Boston Bruins — 100 percent
Toronto Maple Leafs — 100 percent
New York Islanders — 99.4 percent
Washington Capitals — 98.4 percent
Pittsburgh Penguins — 95.2 percent
Carolina Hurricanes — 87.3 percent
Montreal Canadiens — 72.1 percent
Columbus Blue Jackets — 44.8 percent
Philadelphia Flyers — 2.2 percent
Buffalo Sabres — 0.5 percent
Florida Panthers — 0.2 percent
New York Rangers — 0.0 percent
New Jersey Devils — 0.0 percent
Detroit Red Wings — Out
Ottawa Senators — Out

WESTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Sports Club Stats)
Calgary Flames — 100 percent
San Jose Sharks — 100 percent
Winnipeg Jets — 99.9 percent
Nashville Predators — 99.7 percent
Vegas Golden Knights — 97.6 percent
St. Louis Blues — 96.5 percent
Dallas Stars — 87.7 percent
Minnesota Wild — 54.4 percent
Arizona Coyotes — 34.4 percent
Colorado Avalanche — 24.7 percent
Edmonton Oilers — 3.8 percent
Chicago Blackhawks — 0.8 percent
Vancouver Canucks — 0.6 percent
Anaheim Ducks — 0.0 percent
Los Angeles Kings — 0.0 percent

JACK OR KAAPO? THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE
Ottawa Senators — 18.5 percent*
Los Angeles Kings — 13.5 percent
Detroit Red Wings — 11.5 percent
New Jersey Devils — 9.5 percent
Anaheim Ducks — 8.5 percent
Vancouver Canucks — 7.5 percent
Chicago Blackhawks — 6.5 percent
New York Rangers — 6.0 percent
Edmonton Oilers — 5.0 percent
Florida Panthers — 3.5 percent
Buffalo Sabres — 3.0 percent
Colorado Avalanche — 2.5 percent
Arizona Coyotes — 2.0 percent
Philadelphia Flyers — 1.5 percent
Columbus Blue Jackets — 1.0 percent**
(*OTT’s 2019 first-round pick owned by COL)
(**CBJ’s 2019 lottery-protected first-round pick is owned by OTT. If top three, moves to 2020)

ART ROSS RACE
Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning — 108 points
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 96 points
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers — 94 points
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins — 87 points
Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche — 85 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals — 46 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 41 goals
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 40 goals
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs — 37 goals
Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning — 37 goals

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Push for the Playoffs: Canadiens keep pace in Eastern Conference race

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Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2018-19 NHL season. We’ll highlight the current playoff picture in both conferences, take a look at what the first-round matchups might look like, see who’s leading the race for the best odds in the draft lottery and more.

Tuesday night was littered with important matchups for teams in and around Wild Card spots in both conferences, but the Montreal Canadiens were in a unique spot. The Habs, who were in Los Angeles last night, didn’t start playing until 10:30 p.m. ET, which means they knew exactly what all the other teams around them had done before they even stepped onto the ice at Staples Center.

The Canadiens were able to watch as each of the teams they’re competing with ended up recording at least one point. Carolina lost to Boston in overtime, Pittsburgh beat Florida in overtime, and Columbus took down New Jersey in a shootout.

Montreal was able to come up with a 3-1 win against a Kings team that was looking to play spoiler.

“It’s huge,” Canadiens netminder Carey Price said of the win, per the Montreal Gazette. “I thought we played very well from the drop of the puck. We haven’t had a ton of success here, but we were able to put that behind us and put together a solid effort.”

Those two points allowed the Habs to jump back into the final Wild Card spot in the East.

IF PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Lightning vs. Canadiens
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs
Islanders vs. Penguins
Capitals vs. Hurricanes

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Flames vs. Wild
Predators vs. Stars
Jets vs. Blues
Sharks vs. Golden Knights

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS
Capitals at Flyers, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN; live stream)
Maple Leafs at Canucks, 9:00 p.m. ET
Blues at Ducks, 10:00 p.m. ET (NBCSN; live stream)
Flames at Golden Knights 10:30 p.m. ET

EASTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Sports Club Stats)
Lightning – 100 percent
Bruins – 100 percent
Maple Leafs – 100 percent
Islanders – 98.8 percent
Capitals – 96.6 percent
Penguins – 91.7 percent
Hurricanes – 86.8 percent
Canadiens – 60.7 percent
Blue Jackets – 59.4 percent
Flyers – 5 percent
Sabres – 0.6 percent
Rangers – 0 percent
Devils – 0 percent
Red Wings – 0 percent
Senators – 0 percent

WESTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Sports Club Stats)
Flames – 100 percent
Sharks – 100 percent
Jets – 99.9 percent
Predators – 99.8 percent
Golden Knights – 97 percent
Blues – 95.5 percent
Stars 83.3 percent
Avalanche – 46.5 percent
Wild – 42.8 percent
Coyotes 29.1 percent
Oilers – 3.7 percent
Canucks – 1.3 percent
Blackhawks – 0.9 percent
Ducks – 0 percent
Kings – 0 percent

JACK OR KAAPO? THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE 

Senators – 18.5 percent*
Red Wings – 13.5 percent
Kings – 11.5 percent
Devils – 9.5 percent
Ducks – 8.5 percent
Canucks – 7.5 percent
Blackhawks – 6.5 percent
Rangers – 6 percent
Oilers – 5 percent
Panthers – 3.5 percent
Sabres – 3 percent
Avalanche 2.5 percent
Coyotes – 2 percent
Flyers – 1.5 percent
Blue Jackets – 1 percent**
(*OTT’s 2019 first-round pick owned by COL)
(**CBJ’s 2019 lottery-protected first-round pick is owned by OTT. If top three, moves to 2020)

ART ROSS RACE
Nikita Kucherov, Lightning – 108 points
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks – 94 points
Connor McDavid, Oilers – 92 points
Sidney Crosby, Penguins – 86 points
Mikko Rantanen, Avalanche – 85 points
Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche – 84 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE
Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – 45 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 41 goals
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks – 40 goals
John Tavares, Maple Leafs – 37 goals
Brayden Point, Lightning – 37 goals
Jeff Skinner, Sabres – 36 goals

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.