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By the numbers: Canadiens' identity a riddle wrapped in an enigma – Montreal Gazette

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Habs have been the best team in the NHL in 5-vs-5, by a wide margin, but metrics show they need an overhaul in virtually every other area.

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Who are the Montreal Canadiens?

In the wake of the axe falling on head coach Claude Julien and associate coach Kirk Muller on Wednesday, it might be a little while longer before we find a solid answer. With a newly minted interim head coach tag, Dominique Ducharme has an opportunity to resuscitate a season that has gone from a promising 7-1-2 start to a dreadful 2-4-2 slide heading into Saturday’s game against the Jets in Winnipeg (10 p.m., SN, SN360, CBC, TVA Sports, TSN690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

The start of the season for the Canadiens was always a bit of a mirage. No team is going to average 4.4 goals per game for long in a league that averages fewer than three, because there’s too much parity in the NHL. By the same token, the recent stretch in which the Canadiens have averaged just under two goals per game is similarly not fully representative of their play.

Are the Canadiens the juggernaut some observers said they were during their hot start the season? Or are they the awful team we’ve seen in February? The truth is neither, but also somehow both.

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Playing 5-vs-5, the Canadiens have been the best team in the NHL — by a lot. The quality depth that general manager Marc Bergevin assembled and the coaching style of Julien keeping consistent line combinations led to true dominance. Just take a look at the Canadiens’ metrics in goal differential, and the expected-goals model based on the shots they take and give up, crafted by Evolving Hockey.

To read the chart above, being in the top right quadrant means a team is playing well and getting good results, while the top left means a team is playing well, but getting poor results. The bottom right is playing poorly, but getting good results, while the bottom left is playing poorly with poor results.

The Canadiens at 5-vs-5 are ridiculous. They’re controlling over 63 per cent of all goals in that situation and, although they’re getting lucky in that regard, their expected result is still an NHL-leading number at 58.1 per cent. Playing 5-vs-5 is not a problem for this team as they’re dominant in that regard and they get the results they earn. At 5-vs-5, Ducharme is unlikely to make any major changes, and if he does, it might be ill-advised.

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There might be something to be said for giving Jesperi Kotkaniemi more opportunity, perhaps swapping him with Phillip Danault to see how well he can translate his strong production on a per-minute basis into bigger minutes.

What does need a complete overhaul though, is literally everything else. When you take 5-vs-5 hockey out of the equation and look at all other game states, the Canadiens go from contenders for the Stanley Cup to contenders for the draft lottery.

After another disastrous specials-teams failure in a 5-4 shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday, the Canadiens have the worst expected-goals-for percentage away from 5-vs-5 in the NHL, at just 40.8 per cent.

This season, the Canadiens have appeared to be a Jekyll and Hyde team by the division of the schedule, but the split of results has more to do with random variance than anything. They’ve been attacking off the rush less often, but the issues on special teams have been there all along, and they’re only getting worse.

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Part of the issue for the Canadiens here is their league-worst penalty differential, where they’re drawing calls at an average rate, but take more penalties than any team in the NHL. The net result is the Canadiens giving their opponents 0.82 more power plays per game than they get, which doesn’t sound like much, but adds up over time, especially when their play in those situations is awful.

The first step for the new coaching staff needs to be a directive for more discipline from certain players, with Ben Chiarot, Victor Mete and Brett Kulak among NHL leaders in minor penalties per minute played among defencemen. Forwards Josh Anderson and Danault are in the same boat and don’t draw nearly enough calls themselves to even it out.

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Playing with more discipline is a start, but the special teams need a complete overhaul on top of that or the Canadiens will continue to struggle more than necessary.

Part of the needed changes are related to personnel. For example, the Canadiens’ strongest players on the power play last season were when Nick Suzuki and Tomas Tatar played together. This year, they’ve barely seen the ice. The bigger issue for the power play might be philosophical. The Canadiens’ shot leaders on the power play are Shea Weber and Jeff Petry, who are above-average-shooting defencemen, but they’re shooting from the blue line more often than not.

Compare the Habs’ strategy with that of the North Division-leading Maple Leafs, who are tied for the NHL’s best power play. Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Jason Spezza, Travis Boyd, William Nylander, Zach Hyman and Mitch Marner take shots more often than their top shooting defenceman, Morgan Rielly. Shot location matters, and the Canadiens’ power play has been operating like it’s still 2008 when the league has long since moved forward.

Andrew Berkshire is a Montreal-based hockey writer specializing in data-driven analysis of the game.

andrewberkshire@hotmail.com

twitter.com/andrewberkshire

  1. Montreal Canadiens head coach Claude Julien, centre, talks to players during training-camp practice at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard on Jan. 6, 2021.

    Hickey on hockey: Claude Julien’s firing begins and ends with players

  2. Winnipeg Jets' Adam Lowry celebrates a goal by teammate Nate Thompson during third period against the Montreal Canadiens at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg on Feb. 25, 2021.

    What the Puck: Aura of negative energy envelops fragile Canadiens

  3. Canadiens goaltender Carey Price makes save on shot by the Jets’ Mark Scheifele during first period of Thursday night’s game at Winnipeg’s Bell MTS Place.

    Canadiens Game Day: No coach can win the way Carey Price is playing

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    Dominique Ducharme era dawns for Canadiens | HI/O Show

  5. Montreal Canadiens left-wing Jonathan Drouin carries the puck over the blue line as Vancouver Canucks defenceman Jordie Benn (8) follows behind in Montreal on Feb. 1, 2021.

    By the numbers: Canadiens’ Drouin hits stride on both sides of puck

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Drouin must return to mentality that’s led to success this season – Sportsnet.ca

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It was something Dominique Ducharme said after his Montreal Canadiens played an abysmal game against the Ottawa Senators last week, something that only truly resonated after they lost 3-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday — a game that emboldened the struggle Jonathan Drouin’s currently enduring.

“Ninety per cent of the mistakes we made were mental, and the rest of it was above our shoulders.” the coach said after the 6-3 loss to Ottawa last Saturday, somewhat channelling New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra with this bit of wit and wisdom.

It was hard not to think of those words watching Drouin play the way he did on Wednesday. For much of this season, the talented left winger has played a primary role in Montreal’s success. He’s led them with 19 assists, been tenacious on the forecheck, physically engaged all over the ice, cerebral as always in his execution and, as he’s said on several occasions, relatively unconcerned by whether or not his name has been featured on the scoresheet.

But it seemed clear, after watching Drouin dump a breakaway into Jack Campbell’s chest with one of 32 shots the Maple Leafs goaltender turned aside to set a franchise record with his 10th consecutive win, he had diverted from that. And that affected the way he played the rest of the game.

It was Drouin’s fifth in a row without a point, his 18th without a goal, and he’d have to be a robot not to be suffering the mental wear of not seeing the puck go in more than twice since the season started, the torment of seeing only three per cent of his shots hit the back of the net through 36 games after 10 per cent of them resulted in goals through the first 348 games of his career.

“It is weighing on me where, when I have a chance and miss the goal, I might be trying to score too much,” Drouin said. “It’s something I obviously think about — every player would — and I’ve just gotta put it past me and just keep shooting pucks.”

Ideally, the 26-year-old wouldn’t be thinking about any of this. These are thoughts that weigh a player down and right now the Canadiens are in tough without Brendan Gallagher for the rest of the season and Drouin needs to be light and free to help account for that loss. And in order for him to do that, he needs to focus on what he does best.

Because the reality is that even though Drouin can score more, scoring isn’t what he needs to do in order to be at his best and really help this team.

“When his feet are moving and he’s making plays, Drou’s a pass-first guy,” explained Jake Allen, who made 29 saves in Carey Price’s absence. “When his feet are moving, his head’s always in it. When his feet are moving, he’s controlling the play, controlling the puck. He’s a guy who really can control the play for a whole line. You want the puck on that guy’s stick and let the other guys do the dirty work and he’ll find them.”

But when Drouin’s feet aren’t moving, there just isn’t enough of that other stuff happening.

When Drouin’s feet weren’t moving, he lost a battle for the puck in the offensive zone and allowed the NHL’s leading goal scorer to start the rush that resulted in the winning play of Wednesday’s game.

Auston Matthews to Mitch Marner, back to Matthews, off Allen and slammed into Montreal’s net by Zach Hyman with 9:39 remaining in the third period, with Drouin watching from just inside his own blue line.

“You give a 3-on-2 to the Matthews line and it’s the kind of play they’re going to make you pay on,” said Ducharme.

Was Drouin still thinking about that shot he didn’t bury in the second period?

It’s understandable if he was, but those are the kind of thoughts he needs to shake right now.

“He wants to do well, and I’m sure it’s getting a little bit in his head,” said Ducharme. “I think the best remedy for him is to be scoring that goal or making that big play, and I think he’s going to be energized by that and less thinking, more acting.

“It is a fine line. Those kind of thoughts is not something that you want to happen. But when you receive that puck and you see the opening and stuff, (the slump) comes back to (your mind). That’s why the mental part of the game is something that’s very tricky. It’s not his will to be thinking that way. Every player who’s going through a time like that will have that thought and scoring that goal will take him to a different level. At those kind of times you need to make it even simpler and being even more inside going at the net and finding a garbage (goal) right there and you put it in and sometimes you go on a little run. It might be that kind of goal that he needs to get that monkey off his back.”

It’s the kind of goal Corey Perry scored twice to give the Canadiens a chance in this game.

But Drouin isn’t Perry, who rightly pointed out after the game he’s made a career of scoring goals that way. And even if Drouin can borrow from what Perry does next time he has a chance like the one Brett Kulak set him up with for that breakaway, there are other ways he can positively impact the game.

You can appreciate that Drouin said he’s putting pressure on himself to score more and help make up for the goals the team will be missing with Gallagher sidelined, but that might not get him to where he needs to be mentally to contribute as much as he already has this season.

What would, though, is a sharp turn towards the mentality he described just days ago. The one that’s enabled him to be a much more consistent player this season than he has in seasons past.

“When I was younger, I’d stay on one game or stay on one play for too long and wouldn’t be able to let it go for a bit or a couple of days,” Drouin said. “But I think for me now it’s can I look at myself in the mirror after a game and did I give my good effort? Was I a part of this game? Was I doing something right in a lot of areas?

“That’s what I do now. I think points are there, goals are there, assists are there, but it’s just about playing that real game and playing to help your team win.”

Drouin’s done a lot of that this season and has a chance to get right back to it when the Winnipeg Jets visit the Bell Centre Thursday.

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Scioscia to lead U.S. baseball bid for spot at Tokyo Olympics

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(Reuters) – Mike Scioscia, who won World Series both as a player and manager, was named manager of the U.S. men’s national baseball team on Tuesday, as they seek a spot at the Tokyo Olympics.

After 19 seasons as manager of the Anaheim Angels, guiding them to their only World Series win in 2002, Scioscia will make his international coaching debut in June when the United States hosts the Baseball Americas Qualifier in Florida.

For the tournament the U.S. will be grouped with the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Nicaragua in Pool A while Canada, Colombia, Cuba, and Venezuela will make up Pool B.

The top two teams from each pool will advance to the Super Round, where the country with the best overall record will earn a spot in the Tokyo Olympic tournament.

Second and third-place finishers will advance to a final qualifier, joining Australia, China, Taiwan, and the Netherlands.

“Mike’s tenure with the Angels’ franchise was nothing short of spectacular, creating and celebrating a culture of success with six division titles, an American League pennant, and its first-ever World Series title,” said USA Baseball Executive Director/CEO Paul Seiler in a statement. “More impactfully, his leadership, integrity, and character are unparalleled in our game, making him the perfect fit for the USA Baseball family.”

The Olympic tournament will take place from July 28-Aug. 7 in Fukushima City and Yokohama.

Hosts Japan, Israel, South Korea, and Mexico have already secured a berth in the six-team field.

 

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)

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Masters 2021: Tiger Woods says he'll miss Champions Dinner, running up DJ's bill – Golf Channel

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AUGUSTA, Ga. – Dustin Johnson will host his first Champions Dinner on Tuesday night in the Augusta National clubhouse, and he’ll be joined by several past Masters champions.

One former winner who won’t be there is five-time champ Tiger Woods, who is still home in South Florida recovering from a serious car accident in February near Los Angeles. Justin Thomas, who is still working toward his invite to the prestigious dinner, said Woods texted him Friday night and was “bummed” to not be at the Masters this year.

Woods then tweeted Tuesday afternoon that he’ll miss one of his favorite nights of the year.

“I’ll miss running up @DJohnsonPGA’s bill at the Champions Dinner tonight,” Woods said. “It’s still one of my favorite nights of the year.”

Johnson responded to Woods’ tweet, saying: “Will miss having you here. This week isn’t the same without you.”

The PGA Tour announced that the club would leave a seat open for Woods at the dinner, though the tweet has since been taken down.

Johnson will serve a menu including filet mignon, sea bass and peach cobbler.

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