Hickey on hockey: Penalties tripping up Canadiens

Undisciplined play and a failure to kill penalties were key factors in recent losses by the fourth-most penalized team in the NHL.

“There was a big lack of execution and too many passengers.”

This game should have been a gimme. The Ducks have the worst record in the NHL and rank last in goals scored and goals allowed. They had lost nine consecutive games on the road and had been shut out in Ottawa and Toronto prior to arriving in Montreal.

You are reading: Hickey on hockey: Penalties tripping up Canadiens

But no matter how bad the opponent, it’s difficult to win when the execution isn’t there and it’s impossible if you’re carrying too many passengers.

The Canadiens are a young team and that means they are going to make mistakes. Rookie defenceman Kaiden Guhle was undressed by Trevor Zegras on the second Anaheim goal, but nobody doubts that Guhle is on his way to becoming a top-echelon defender and mistakes are part of the learning process.

The youngsters also bring a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the rink and it’s one of the reasons why the Canadiens have exceeded expectations this season. But if there isn’t a full commitment, things can go awry and that’s why the Canadiens have lost three of their last four games and have missed an opportunity to move into the top four in the Atlantic Division.

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Discipline is another factor. The Canadiens are the fourth-most penalized team in the NHL. It wasn’t a major factor when the penalty-killing unit was ranked in the top 10, but Wednesday’s loss in Ottawa and the loss in Edmonton this month were the direct result of undisciplined play and a failure to kill penalties.

Anaheim opened the scoring Thursday on a power-play goal after Joel Armia took an unnecessary slashing penalty.

While we’re on the subject of Armia, he’s been on the passenger list ever since former general manager Marc Bergevin gave him a four-year contract extension with a US$3.4-million annual cap hit.

I’ve had players tell me with a straight face that Armia has one of the best shots on the team. He’s taken that shot 38 times this season without scoring. Last season, the first under his new contract, he scored six goals on 103 shots and ranked 26th on the team with a shooting percentage of 5.8.

St. Louis appeared to be pumping Armia’s tires recently when he said, despite the lack of production, he thought Armia had a high ceiling. The way he’s playing, Armia would have a hard time, reaching the ceiling in a crawl space.

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The fans who are lusting for a bottom-five finish may be happy to see the Canadiens lose, but this group is better than that and there is nothing to be gained if the team develops a losing culture.

A sucker born every minute: NHL commissioner Gary Bettman provided one of the more interesting tidbits from the recent league meetings when he said that a dozen groups have shown interest in buying the Ottawa Senators and the asking price is expected to be north of the US$800 million figure in the annual Forbes evaluations revealed this week.

Forbes noted that the value of the Senators jumped 52 per cent during the past year, which has nothing to do with the team’s current performance on the ice. Everyone in the nation’s capital is hoping that the current team rebuilding project dovetails with the construction of a downtown arena on the LeBreton Flats.

Even then, there’s no guarantee this makes any sense financially. While the late owner, Eugene Melnyk, was often described as a billionaire, the team was not in good financial shape and the league reportedly provided help to meet this year’s payroll so it would be more attractive to prospective buyers. Any change in ownership will be on hold until the arena gets the go-ahead and the new owners will likely have to chip in for the construction costs on top of the price tag.

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