You know how you can look at a little kid and just love him to bits, but at the same time he tries your patience to the point at which "time out" just isn't enough and you end up yelling at him? I'll bet Ryan White's parents felt like that more than once. Last night, I understood them.
The Canadiens have been doing many thing correctly this season. There are great improvements in attitude and approach to the game since last year's depressing basement finish. They are not perfect, however. The new style is still very much a work in progress. One of the biggest problems they're facing is with the penalty kill. Last year's PK was second in the league, with a stellar 88.6% efficiency rate. This year, the Canadiens sit at 78.1%, good for only 19th place. They've given up seven PP goals in their six games. So, when Ryan White got called for a marginal roughing call, then decided to antagonize already whistle-happy officials, which landed him a double minor, it was not a good thing. White's absence resulted in another two PP goals against, and that sunk the Habs in what had, up until then, been a pretty close game. On a night when the refs appeared to be working on commission, White could have been smarter. In the meantime, the coaching staff needs to address the PK immediately. Surely there are tapes somewhere showing a successful penalty kill that doesn't involve Hal Gill.
Of course, it's not all on White. The poor kid looked like Braveheart after the English killed his wife for the rest of the game. Hockey games are lost because a team makes mistakes, and White's was just the most obvious of the Canadiens' errors last night. There were defensive breakdowns enough to go around, and being behind on the scoreboard illuminated some problems inherent in the lineup. David Desharnais is struggling badly without Max Pacioretty. He's getting pushed around, and he's having trouble connecting with Lars Eller, who's never looked comfortable on the wing. The rookies showed they work best with a lead, when time and space are available. Tight checking by the Senators last night kept them to the outside and largely harmless.
The other big problem, though, aside from the PK, is faceoffs. The Canadiens haven't had a really stellar top line faceoff guy since Saku Koivu put up a 54.1% success rate in the 2008-09 season. Jeff Halpern, Dominic Moore and Maxim Lapierre were all good on the draw, but none of them took more than a thousand faceoffs in a season. Tomas Plekanec has averaged 1555 trips to the circle in the last four years because of his versatility after the puck drops. This year's team average is just 46.1%, which puts them fourth-last in the league. When you're facing a big, aggressive team like the Senators, you can't spend the night chasing the puck without giving up a lot of chances. The third goal, in particular, came directly from a lost faceoff on the PK. Plekanec, still the go-to faceoff guy is a dismal 44.8% on the draw. If the Canadiens hope to take advantage of their skills with the puck, they need to start a shift with the puck. They need a faceoff guy for those big draws, and they need someone like Guy Carbonneau or Yanic Perreault to come in and work with the centres.
All that said, the Canadiens this year are a work in progress. You can't really draw a whole lot from a third game in four nights, with two important young bodies in P.K.Subban and Max Pacioretty out of the lineup. Andrei Markov played a team-high 23:51 and Francis Bouillon got the second-highest amount of ice time with 21:25. These are not young men anymore. The amount of hockey they've played this week was bound to catch up with them and Markov, in particular, looked off his game. Their overuse will be mitigated by the return of Subban, who, hopefully will not be held out of the lineup longer than necessary in order for Michel Therrien to prove a point.
The positive from this game is that after a brutal second period (which seems to be a recurring theme so far in this young season), the Canadiens didn't quit in the third. They kept trying to get back in a game on which they would have given up last season. So, while Therrien will likely give Ryan White and a few others of his kids a stern talking-to today, they'll do better next time.