What is causing the Montreal Canadiens to struggle?

Eric Engels breaks down the issues in net for the Canadiens, with Dustin Tokarski and Mike Condon battling for the back-up job between the pipes.

After beginning the season with a franchise-record nine-game winning streak, it seemed unfathomable for the Montreal Canadiens to fall back to the pack in their division.

At the end of November, the Habs had a 10-point lead on the next best team in the Atlantic, and their plus-32 goal differential was four times better than the next best team in the division.

Fast forward to a 2-7-0 run in December, and that division lead is down to just one point. The Boston Bruins have two games in hand and the same plus-21 goal differential.

What happened to the Canadiens in December? Losing both Carey Price and Brendan Gallagher are certainly contributing factors, but the team has maintained a 54.1 score-adjusted Corsi, and in all situations they have 54.1 per cent of the scoring chances as well.

That doesn’t seem to indicate the play of the team has fallen off, yet they have scored on just 5.1 per cent of their shots on goal, and their goalies have saved just 87.9 per cent of the shots they’ve faced.

To analyze this in more detail, let’s look at where the Canadiens are allowing shots from since the beginning of December:

habsdecsa

The Canadiens do allow more shots from the ‘Inner Slot’ than league average, but they have also done an excellent job filtering a ton of shots to the ‘Outside North East’ area, where average goalies are expected to stop 96.1 per cent of shots on net.

In fact, based on their shot locations, the Canadiens should expect an average NHL goaltender to put up a .910 save percentage with the shots they’ve given up in December, which is significantly higher than the .879 goaltending they’ve been getting.

Worse yet, the goaltending hasn’t been up and down, it has been consistently bad. The Habs have had just two starts when their goaltenders hit a league average save percentage, which happened to be their only two wins during this cold streak.

So where exactly are the problem areas? Let’s look at the save percentages for Mike Condon and Dustin Tokarski in December by zone.

habsdecsp

When we broke down the Oilers’ goaltending, we also looked at league average expectations for save percentage in each zone, and the biggest takeaway from there is that the Canadiens’ goaltenders are only outperforming league average goaltenders in two areas; the ‘Center Point’ and ‘East Outer Slot’ zones. In every other area, they’re below league average.

The biggest drops from league average are in the ‘Inner Slot’ where the Habs’ goaltenders have stopped shots at a rate 10.5 percentage points lower than league average, the ‘West Outer Slot’ where they’re down 7.7 percentage points, and the ‘East Point’ where they’re down 8.5 percentage points.

Big fluctuations on slot shot save percentage happen from time to time, it’s the nature of high danger chances. However those drops from the outside represent five extra goals against that really shouldn’t have happened, which is a lot to deal with over a nine-game sample.

There’s a lot of focus on the Canadiens’ lack of goal scoring of late, but the goaltending has been an even bigger worry. Weak goals are happening far too often and big saves aren’t being made either. In games where the Canadiens have dominated early, like recent matchups against the Dallas Stars, Los Angeles Kings, and San Jose Sharks, allowing those deflating goals takes the wind out of your sails, and against Dallas especially, that really looked like it was beginning to wear on the team.

The overall play is still there, but the Canadiens need to get some saves, and it’s something the skaters can’t really control.