The 2019-20 season has been an interesting one for the Montreal Canadiens so far.
After an impressive 11-5-3 start to the season, the Canadiens fell into a 0-5-3 rut over their next eight games. They’ve since responded to win six of their last eight games — which includes a dramatic overtime win in Calgary on Thursday, thanks to the heroics of Max Domi.
The result is Montreal currently leading a group of five teams separated by just three points that are battling for the second and third seeds in the Atlantic Division with just two games left until the holiday break.
It figures to be a tight race right down until the end of the season. Which Habs team will show up the rest of the way is anyone’s guess. What we do know is that they should have a few things on their Christmas wish list to help them avoid missing the playoffs for a third straight year.
1. Speedy return for Jonathan Drouin
Jonathan Drouin has been out since tearing a tendon in his wrist on November 15. It isn’t a total coincidence that the Habs stumbled through an eight-game losing streak immediately after he was injured.
Drouin had been one of Montreal’s best players this season, with 15 points (7-8-15) through his first 19 games. He was playing his best hockey since joining the Canadiens. After averaging 3.58 goals per game prior to Drouin’s injury, the Canadiens have averaged only 2.69 per game since.
Drouin was expected to need eight weeks to recover from surgery, but the Habs would love it if he could make it back a bit sooner than that.
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2. A backup goalie
The Canadiens had a short leash on Keith Kinkaid, waiving him after he posted an .875 percentage over six games.
Cayden Primeau was initially called up to replace Kinkaid, appearing in two games before getting sent down in favour of Charlie Lindgren. Primeau, a seventh-round pick in 2017, has a .904 save percentage in 13 games with the AHL Laval Rocket this season, while Lindgren posted an .893 save percentage over 16 games.
In other words, nobody’s inspiring a ton of confidence. This season is looking similar to last year in the sense that the Habs are fighting tooth and nail for a playoff spot while not having a trustworthy backup goalie, leading them to lean very heavily on Carey Price.
Price has started 28 of Montreal’s 35 games so far, which is tied for the highest total in the league. They’d love to have another goalie that would allow them to give the 32-year-old more rest.
3. Fix a broken penalty kill
Last year the Canadiens were killed by their power play.
Their 13.2% success rate was the second-worst mark in the league and the worst in franchise history. The power play has been much better this season, with their 21.2% clip tied for the 10th-best in the league.
However, as much as the power play has improved, those gains have been almost nullified by their regression on the penalty kill. They’ve gone from a respectable 80.9% clip that was tied for 12th in the league last season to a 75.2% mark that ranks 27th this year.
Improving their penalty kill will be crucial to their playoff chances. None of last year’s bottom-five penalty killing teams made the postseason.
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