Shots against is the big issue going into the new season

Philadelphia Flyers' Scott Hartnell (L) jostles with Montreal Canadiens' Hal Gill during the first period in Game 5 of their NHL Eastern Conference final hockey series in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania May 24, 2010. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT ICE HOCKEY)

I know there’s been tons of talk this off-season about everything…. wide spread panic about trades, silly media leaks about striking goaltenders… strong scrutiny at pre-season play.

Well, the regular season is almost upon us. With that I thought I’d share one aspect of the Montreal Canadiens play that I believe NEEDS to be improved. It’s a stat that you hear about in the regular season but doesn’t get a whole lot of attention otherwise.

It doesn’t give you a big “crash/bang/boom”…. isn’t spectacular like that Kovalchuk contract. But, it slowly sinks a team.

Shots against.

The shots the opponents manage to get through the defense and unto the Habs net. This has been a stat that has been haunting the Canadiens for far too many years.

Here are the shots against stats for the last 10 years!

1999-2000 – 27.6 – 10th in the league
2000-2001 – 28.0 – 19th in the league
2001-2002 – 31.7 – 27th in the league
2002-2003 – 32.7 – 29th in the league
2003-2004 – 28.6 – 19th in the league
2005-2006 – 30.6 – 21st in the league
2006-2007 – 32.7 – 28th in the league
2007-2008 – 31.6 – 26th in the league
2008-2009 – 31.7 – 24th in the league
2009-2010 – 32.1 – 26th in the league

You can easily see that for the last ten years the Canadiens haven’t been very good in this respect. God forbid, there were comparisons to playing the same type of game as the Detroit Red Wings just last year and the couple of years prior…. “puck possession”.

Watching the pre-season game tonight I did notice that the Sabres got 37 shots on goal against Alex Auld. I don’t really think it’s a huge deal, because of course it is pre-season and there were still many guys in the lineup who will start the year in Hamilton.

However, seeing guys like Spacek give up the puck several times in a few of these pre-season games the way he did, sloppy pass, pivoting the wrong way or looking slow on the puck…. it concerns me a little. For a vet. Although, maybe it’ll take him a while to get it going and not having Markov and Hamrlik to start the season leaves some big holes to fill.

Once the Gill/Gorges tandem (if they are paired up of course) are playing together regularly I believe they’ll be an effective presense on defense. When Gill can block those passing lanes and block shots… he’s quite effective. Last year’s playoffs were a great example.

One “role” I’d love to see on the defense is a big strong mean type player. Someone who would surely clear most traffic in front of Carey Price and/or Alex Auld. I had always been hopeful Ryan O’Byrne would eventually fill that role but with passing years I’m not sure that will materialize. I don’t think it’s really in his makeup. And that’s not a knock on Ryan.

In this pre-season I’ve found Alex Henry brought much of that mean/tough play around the net. Crunching people on the boards…. flattening them in front of the net. Throwing the gloves if needed…. coming to a team mates aid….. Not sure there’s a spot for Alex, but from what I’ve seen, I’d give him a shot somehow.

We have some puck moving D-men out there. When Markov comes back, he’ll bring the high skill that he’s shown for years as one of Montreal’s secret weapons. PK Subban will also have the year to develop and improv his skills. There’s some “shut down” guys, at least paired together in the playoffs last year, Gorges and Gill were incredible.

The one element that I believe would help a bit is a big mean guy who will make you hate playing against him. Hurt you in front of the net, crush you in the corner kind of guy. I’m not really saying this guy should be “a fighter”, but just a really gritty presence that makes it hard to live around the net.

Tonight, Habs got caught with their backs turned to the puck in front of their net a few times. Let’s hope that when the full lineup is in that it gets tightened up a bit.

So let’s eliminate some of those shots on goal!

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