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Canadiens' power-play struggles, fade in stretch cost trip to playoffs

Trade for Domi, young forwards raise hopes for future

by Sean Farrell / NHL.com Correspondent

The Montreal Canadiens failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second straight season and third time in four seasons.

The Canadiens (43-30-8) were eliminated from playoff contention when the Columbus Blue Jackets defeated the New York Rangers 3-2 in a shootout at Madison Square Garden on Friday.

Here is a look at what happened in the 2018-19 season for the Canadiens and why things could be better next season:

 

The Skinny

Potential UFAs: Nate Thompson, C; Jordan Weal, C; Jordie Benn, D; Christian Folin, D; Antti Niemi, G

Potential RFAs: Joel Armia, RW; Charles Hudon, LW; Artturi Lehkonen, LW; Brett Kulak, D; Mike Reilly, D

Potential 2019 NHL Draft picks: 10

 

What went wrong

Power play: It's pretty clear the Canadiens would have made it into the playoffs with any sort of production with the man advantage; their unit ranks 30th in the NHL (12.9 percent) and their 30 power play goals rank last in the League. It's a bit of a mystery how they have not been able to find a solution to this weakness considering the talent at hand, including center Max Domi and forwards Jonathan Drouin, Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Tatar, not to mention defenseman Shea Weber's fear-inducing shot from the point. Finding the right quarterback will be essential going forward to improve in this area.

Left defense: This has been a problem for the past two seasons, particularly the lack of a suitable top pair defenseman to play with Weber. It is a role that has been filled mostly by Victor Mete, a 20-year-old second-year player who has yet to score a goal through his first 119 games with Montreal.

The big game: The Canadiens held their fate in their hands down the stretch but crucial road losses against the New York Islanders (2-1 on March 14), Carolina Hurricanes (2-1 in overtime on March 24), Blue Jackets (6-2 on March 28) and Washington Capitals (2-1 on Thursday) left them short of the points they needed to reach the playoffs, despite recording 94 in 81 games. 

Video: MTL@WSH: Weber buries shot from circle for PPG

 

Reasons for optimism

New attitude: General manager Marc Bergevin decried the "attitude" surrounding the Canadiens at the end of the previous season, and however that is to be quantified, it's clear two big trades shook things up this season. Domi, acquired from the Arizona Coyotes for center Alex Galchenyuk on June 15, had NHL career highs in goals (28), assists (43) and points (71) in his Canadiens debut, shifting seamlessly from left wing to center from the outset to help address one of Montreal's biggest needs.

And in addition to acquiring Tatar, center prospect Nick Suzuki and a second-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, the trade that sent forward Max Pacioretty to the Vegas Golden Knights brought about a significant leadership change with Weber taking over as captain, a role he previously held with the Nashville Predators. 

A year of growth: The Canadiens were not widely expected to challenge for a playoff spot going through what Bergevin has termed a reset as opposed to a rebuild. Rookie center Jesperi Kotkaniemi, the No. 3 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, has played a full season as an 18-year-old with 34 points (11 goals, 23 assists) in 78 games, almost all as a third-line center before he tired down the stretch.

Lehkonen is 23 years old, Domi and Drouin each is 24, Armia is 25, center Phillip Danault and Gallagher each is 26, forward Andrew Shaw is 27 and Tatar is 28, so time is on Montreal's side up front.

More to come: Prospects Ryan Poehling, a 20-year-old center from St. Cloud State selected with the No. 25 pick in the 2017 draft, and Cayden Primeau, a 19-year-old goalie from Northeastern selected in the seventh round (No. 199) in the 2017 draft, each signed an entry-level contract to begin his professional career.

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