BROSSARD, Que.— You’ll have to forgive Montreal Canadiens coach Michel Therrien for not worrying too much about the process that’s led his team to a 10-1-1 record to start the season.
Yes, the Canadiens have work to do. Therrien acknowledged as much on Monday when referring to the club’s 7th-overall ranking in minor penalties taken, struggling penalty kill—which has allowed six goals over the last two games—and tendency to get heavily out-shot in recent games.
But he also feels that everyone in the province of Quebec needs to take a deep breath and enjoy the view from atop the NHL standings—just like he’s currently doing.
“When you coach a hockey team that has one [regulation] loss in 12 games—am I worried? No,” he said. “I’m happy. I’m very, very, very happy.”
But you can’t blame people for their persistence in asking the coach if he’s preoccupied with recent trends that have forced starting goaltender Carey Price to be every bit as good as his .952 save percentage suggests he’s been.
The Canadiens allowed 38 shots in a win over the Toronto Maple Leafs two Saturdays ago before allowing 42 in a 3-0 win over Vancouver last Wednesday.
It all caught up with them in Columbus last Friday.
With Price on the bench and backup Al Montoya in the net, the Blue Jackets scored 10 goals on 40 shots.
You’d think the Canadiens would be dead-set on correcting this the following night against the Philadelphia Flyers, but they allowed another 38 shots to get to Price in the 5-4 win.
As Therrien said on Saturday, “The most important thing is that we found a way to win the game.”
He continued on that theme in an impassioned speech on Monday.
“When you say, ‘worry’—‘worry,’ ‘preoccupied,’ ‘concerned’—it’s been a few days I’ve been hearing words like that,” said Therrien in French. “I’ve seen plenty of comments about it.
“How do I explain this? We wanted to have a good training camp—it’s a new season, and we have new players. We had an excellent camp, which enabled us to have a good start to the season. When I look after 12 games…if you had told me after 12 games that we’d only have one [regulation] loss, I’d be satisfied. I’d be more than satisfied.
“I remember last year in December when we had 40 shots on net, 42 shots versus 19, 17 and we lost 4-1—it was total panic across Quebec. This year we had a good start, but we’re allowing more shots—which is something that will be correct. I’m not worried about it. I’m not in a position to be worried.
“It occurred to me yesterday when I went to do my groceries and fans were so pleased with our start to the season. They were encouraging me and us to continue in this direction. Then I returned home and I’m hearing all these comments—mostly from different people in the media.
“What worries me is the little kid Simon (a cancer patient) who was in our room stating our starting lineup Saturday; that after watching our game, he had to go to the hospital for treatment; he’ll have treatment Sunday, today, and the next day. That’s concerning.”
There’s a dose of perspective.
And here’s one of a different nature: Eight of the top-10 teams that averaged the most shots against per game last season failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Six of them — those who allowed 31 or more shots per game — were all excluded from the post-season.
The Canadiens currently allow the second-most shots in the league at an average of 33.7 against per game.
And the team’s penalty kill, which was operating at a 92 per cent clip through its first 10 games, has dipped to 80 per cent.
Last season, six of the 11 teams who were at 80 per cent or less failed to qualify for the post-season.
If the Canadiens continue trending downward in shots against and penalty kill, Therrien could be singing a different tune after games against quality competitors in Boston, Los Angeles, Detroit and Chicago this week.
But, for now—and especially after last year’s 22nd-place finish in the standings—Montreal’s bench boss should be whistling along to Bobby McFerrin’s Don’t Worry, Be Happy.
And he wouldn’t mind if Canadiens fans joined him on the chorus…