Last season, the Montreal Canadiens ranked second in the NHL by killing off 89.6% power play opportunities. With the New York Islanders scoring two power play goals in their 6-3 win over the Habs Tuesday, Montreal’s penalty kill percentage this season dropped to a rather pedestrian 82.4%. If the Canadiens are to make a legitimate run at the Stanley Cup, the performance of the penalty killing unit needs to improve.
Coming into this season, the strongest part of the team was believed to be the Canadiens penalty killing unit and goaltender Carey Price. Ironically, during their first place run, it is these two areas of the game which are becoming somewhat of a concern for Habs head coach Michel Therrien. Going into the playoffs, these are two parts of the game a team does not want to be struggling with.
Identifying why Price has had a few bad days at the office and correcting the problem appears to be a walk in the park compared to determining why the penalty killing is not being executed in top form. The disappointing results are even more perplexing when one factors in the return of defenseman Andrei Markov from injury last season.
Although Montreal is deep at the blue line, they may be lacking a big body for the penalty kill to clear out the front of the net and eat up a few shots. This particular roll on the Habs roster was filled by 6’-7” 240 pound Hal Gill the past two and one-half seasons. From a size standpoint, the current lineup does not appear to have a player who can step into Gill’s skates.
With the trade deadline approaching, it remains to be seen if Canadiens General Manager Eric Bergevin makes a move designed to tighten the penalty kill. Bergevin does have at his disposal the Dallas Stars 2013 third round draft pick, which was recently acquired in the Erik Cole trade. This may be the time to use it.